While Pete Travis’ (Vantage Point) bloodily excessive re-boot of Judge Dredd exorcises the horror of Danny Cannon’s 1992 Stallone pantomime, it simply doesn’t re-boot energetically enough despite an Alex Garland (Ex Machina) script.
In a post-nuclear Mega City One, the 800m citizens sprawl across an area from Boston to DC that looks all too close to present day Jo’berg (where it was filmed); the police are now the Judges; cop, magistrate and summary executioner in one, a cold elite of ruthless killers, in a city teetering on the edge of lawlessness.
If the Judge Dredd comic strip provided the model for Robocop and the Terminator, then this movie Dredd comes off a poor third behind any number of movie tough guys. Worse still, the script – police going into a locked-down tower block after the drug gangs – comes off a poor second to The Raid, District 13 and any number of knock-off’s.
I have a teenage fondness for the subversive artwork, biting satire, glib one-liners and x-rated violence of the original 2000AD comic character. Travis translates this into a drab, concrete slum-land of dowdy assorted murderers and drug pushers. It’s a violent, bloody, splattery procession of shoot-outs relieved only by the arty, ultra-slow-motion sequences of scenes under the influence of Slo-Mo, designer drug of the day.
Answering just one 9-1-1 call, a triple homicide in the 200-storey mega-block, Peach Trees tenement, Dredd takes rookie Judge Anderson along on assessment. Finding themselves under lockdown by gangster Ma-Ma, a disfigured ex-hooker, the judges have to survive against a horde of ragged, gun-toting crooks.
It’s a reduced palette of colour and character, the only bright spot being Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson, a street kid lifted into law enforcement for her rather special psychic talents, which make Dredd’s violent interrogation techniques superfluous. Thirlby is the emotional heart of Dredd, ambitious, driven, scared and ultimately empowered, her Judge Anderson betters the relentless kick-ass chicks Alice (Resident Evil) and Lara Croft. If she’s this good with material this poor, more Thirlby, please.
Carl Urban (Star Trek, Chronicles of Riddick) makes a suitably scowling Dredd and, unlike last time, observes the Rule of Dredd – the iconic helmet never comes off. Whilst it’s true to the comic-books, we get no eye contact with the character, and as this Dredd is completely ram-rod stiff, lacking well-timed one-liners, becomes a rather brutal one-man army of vengeance devoid of any colour or depth; a pale imitation of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.
Between them Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, 300), henchman Wood Harris (The Wire, Justified) and Domnal Gleeson (Ex Machina, Calvary) as Ma-Ma’s tortured computer hacker, do what they can with thin material.
The big-budget silliness of Jupiter Ascending is much closer to the spirit of a 2000AD comic than this, where Travis has to confine the action to a single cheap car chase, a lot of enlosed sets and some CGI in a lacklustre televisual adaptation on the same level as your average Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren movie. So determinedly tough and brutal, Dredd winds up borderline misogynist, racist and adding insult, dull. RC
Director: Pete Travis
Writers: Carlos Ezquerra, Alex Garland
Running time: 1 hr. 35 min.
Genre: sci-fi, action, adaptation
Cast: Carl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domnal Gleeson