The Hollywood system is all about the concept of franchises. Since the 1980s Hollywood has been on to this concept and utilized it thoroughly. A hit film is no longer just a hit film, it’s a potential well to be drained until the very last drop of coin has been made. Franchise starters are often adaptations of popular novels, comics, or sometimes even toy lines. In the case of “Dredd”, the unfortunate stigma attached to it is that of Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider. But the 2012 version of the comic series adaptation bears no resemblance to Sly’s grumbling and mumbling Judge of the 90’s.
“Dredd” (I won’t be referring to it with the moniker of ‘3D’ as I saw the 2D version) opens with a voice over from the titular character himself, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), breaking down the current state of the world. The Mega Cities complete with their Mega Blocks of housing, 97% unemployment and crime infestation. Overcrowding is an obvious societal plague and this has manifested into a city incapable of dispensing law and order. The Judge’s enforce, sentence and carry out the law in an effort to streamline the process. Though this also leaves plenty of room for corruption as the Judge’s power is absolute in the face of an ordinary citizen.
We meet Judge Dredd as he receives the assignment of assessing a rookie Judge named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who is getting passed through Judge training because of her abilities as a psychic. While training Dredd and Anderson are called to the Peach Trees Mega Block, 200 floors of chaos and violence, to investigate a triple homicide perpetrated in particularly gruesome fashion. It’s revealed that a gang leader named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) is responsible and the two Judges take one of her lieutenants into custody. Ma-Ma issues a lockdown of the block and places a kill order on the heads of the law enforcers and the mayhem takes over.
It’s impossible to view “Dredd” without thinking about two other, very different, films. The aforementioned “Judge Dredd” and this year’s foreign action extravaganza “The Raid: Redemption”. “Dredd” borrows its world, lead character and setting from the comics but no ties are else-wise made to its predecessor. However its premise is quite similar to that of “The Raid”. ‘Scaling through stories of a high-rise in an attempt to bring down a ruthless drug lord, while fighting inner corruption and providing nonstop action’ is an accurate description for both films. However, “Dredd” is able to distinguish itself by adding variety to its action, sci-fi elements to the weaponry, and incorporating the narrative’s drug SLO-MO into set pieces providing incredible bullet-time effects. Director Pete Travis doesn’t skimp on the blood either as henchmen, bystanders, and even a few Judges are annihilated in a variety of inventive and surprising ways. It’s an unrelenting gore-fest by the finale and never lets up until every loose end is tied.
Karl Urban is serviceable and solid as Dredd himself. And Lena Headey provides a menacing, if not physically imposing, adversary. Though the real standout in the film is Thirlby, as rookie Judge Anderson. She begins the film a wide eyed beginner somewhat afraid of her own power; then morphs into a fully realized character coping with a variety of decisions about her actions and future with law enforcement. Her interrogation sequences of a suspect and instances inside the heads’ of various characters provide insight and perspective to the world around us. Her dynamic with Dredd also becomes a sustained point of comic relief and a true partnership.
The only negative “Dredd” contains is the character himself. He’s superfluous to this world and story for any outsider. Any action character could be substituted in with the same character description and the story would flow exactly the same. He doesn’t possess any real nuance or distinguishing characteristics that add to the story. It’s an effective performance from Urban and still fun to watch, but in no way is this movie singularly about Judge Dredd or his character’s arc.
A sequel containing Anderson, or at least a partnership of her and Dredd, and her exploits is far more appealing to me then a singular jaunt with Dredd. As an action film, it’s top notch and a ton of fun. But as a reboot of a franchise starring Judge Dredd, it unfortunately misses the mark.