Judgment is Coming.”
Director: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Synopsis: In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.
Sylvester Stallone had a shot at bringing the uncompromising comic-book anti-hero Judge Dredd to the big screen back in 1995 and made a right hash of it. His Dredd was pretty much Dredd in name only. He even showed his face — something Dredd never did — simply because he was Sylvester Stallone and he wanted people to see the quality of his performance (presumably). Stallone’s Judge Dredd bombed so badly that we might consider ourselves lucky someone decided to take another stab at it just a mere seventeen years later. Luckily, those fearless people at Reliance and their chums felt there was still an audience out there for this kind of thing. This version, directed by Pete Travis, is a lot better than the 1995 one, but it still tanked at the box office, despite receiving generally favourable reviews.
Karl Urban plays the new Judge Dredd, and he keeps his helmet on throughout, unlike rookie companion Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who forgets to even bring hers along. I guess the producers were worried that watching two helmeted heroes charging around would be a little too much for the audience. We might become confused as to which helmeted hero is which, and that would be just plain wrong — you can’t go mistaking Dredd for a woman. By rights, Anderson shouldn’t even be there because she failed to make the grade during her entrance exams. But she has a pretty unique talent which comes in pretty handy on a number of occasions, and saves the writers having to tie themselves in knots in order for her and Dredd to obtain information they would otherwise have no chance of obtaining.
Dredd allows Anderson to choose their first assignment together and she picks a real doozie. Three skinned bodies have been thrown from the top floor of a giant apartment block-cum-shopping mall called Peachtrees. They were drug dealers trying to muscle in on the turf of one vicious mother called, appropriately enough, Ma Ma (Lena Headey). Scrub her up and put her in an evening gown and Ma Ma would look pretty hot, but she prefers the grungy look and only has a vague idea about what a toothbrush is for. She also has a decidedly sadistic streak about her, and is ruthless in her determination to protect her monopolisation of a new drug called slo-mo, which gives its users the impression that time has slowed to one-tenth of its normal speed. Exactly why anyone living in the urban hell that is Mega City One would want to extend time in such a way is something of a mystery, but there you go.
Once Ma Ma learns that a couple of Judges are in the building she orders it locked down and instructs its residents to stay in their apartments until her men have exterminated Dredd and Anderson. It’s at this point that we’re immediately reminded of the previous year’s Indonesian action movie The Raid, in which a SWAT officer has to fight his way down numerous floors of an apartment block filled with gangsters out to kill him. But Dredd is different, see. Because in Dredd, our heroes are fighting their way upwards and not down…
Ok, I’m being facetious, and to be fair, Dredd deserves better. It’s certainly doesn’t come across as a rip-off of The Raid, although it doesn’t come across as any better, either, despite having a budget more than thirty times larger. You can see where the money’s gone, with all these flashy slo-mo shots and 3D effects, but that kind of thing never really adds anything to a movie unless all you want to see is, well, impressive special effects. Writer Alex Garland chooses not to explore the possibilities inherent in the slo-mo drug, concentrating instead on straightforward video game shoot-em-ups until the inevitable showdown, and you can’t help feeling that he missed an opportunity to make Dredd stand out from the slew of superhero movies doing the rounds. Dredd isn’t a failure by any means, but it’s also nothing like as good as it should be.