Retrospective: Dredd (2012)

Judge Dredd: Twelve serious crimes reported every minute. Seventeen thousand per day. We can respond to around six percent.

Anderson: Which six percent?

Judge Dredd: Your show, rookie. You tell me.

This movie had no right to be as good as it is. It is a very simple film from some very complying source material. It is so damn cool and one of the few movies I consider an instant cult classic. Everything clicks so well from Paul Leonard-Morgan’s music (he also did the Limitless soundtrack which I loved) to KarlUrban playing the lead character completely straight and giving the source material the treatment it deserves after a rather abysmal Sylvester Stallone effort in the mid-90s. It is certainly one of the most overlooked movies of 2012 and already becoming a cult sci-fi film with so many “Oh My God That So Fucking Cool” moments, similar to The Raid series which makes it highly recommended.

An action film aphorism I find to be true is that tower blocks make really good settings. Like The Raid, the vast majority of the movie is set in one mega block. The world is irradiated after nuclear war and everyone lives in massive cities and tower blocks such as the one Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) enter. What seems like a simple if grisly murder rapidly takes a on a life of its own as a housing block holding 70,000 people goes into lockdown. Anderson is a failed rookie but boasts psychic powers and is being given a chance to prove herself to the hardest judge around, Dredd. This gives us the fish out of water perspective while also allowing huge plot dumps through psychic interrogations which is all done surprisingly elegantly.

Judge Dredd is one of my favourite comic series and 2000 AD’s strongest property. Even for someone not familiar with the source material, the film is nicely framed through showing an everyday event to illustrate how the world is completely fucked and how rough justice is the only thing keeping everything going in a world far too full of people. This works for both the criminals and the Judges. Lena Headey plays a driven criminal psychopath called Mama, whilst her henchman (The Wire’s Wood Harris) does a very good job of portraying everything is fuckedness. This opening quote gives you the idea that is reinforced throughout.

Judge Dredd: America is an irradiated wasteland. Within it lies a city. Outside the boundary walls, a desert. A cursed earth. Inside the walls, a cursed city, stretching from Boston to Washington D.C. An unbroken concrete landscape. 800 million people living in the ruin of the old world and the mega structures of the new one. Mega blocks. Mega highways. Mega City One. Convulsing. Choking. Breaking under its own weight. Citizens in fear of the street. The gun. The gang. Only one thing fighting for order in the chaos: the men and women of the Hall of Justice. Juries. Executioners. Judges.

The movie was written and produced by Alex Garland who recently wrote and directed Ex Machina, further showing his great aptitude for science fiction. Along with his previous writing credits, he must be one of the most interesting young film makers around. Like almost all comics, the Judge Dredd series contains complicated plotting which make no sense except through the logic of the long running comics. By keeping the film so simple, it is a nice approachable movie for those who don’t know anything about Dredd especially for those who enjoy some simple, entertaining violence and don’t mind reading subtitles. Like The Raid, the tower block becomes a character as it both aids and hinders the Judges with its passages and lifts and corners and halls. The buzzing music adds to the speed and violence very effectively, similarly to The Raid’s achievement. The slow mo has an in-universe explanation which is nice and extremely detailed, slowing the manic pace of the movie down for brief breaths between the high speed action.

The plot is weak and no one other than Judge Anderson and Mama have any characterisation. I am more sympathetic to this than normal because of what I know of Dredd and how he is the physical manifestation of justice, although this could be off putting to newcomers. It is one of few movies which I feel would work well with sequels, although due to underperformance at the box office (not even making its money back), this seems unlikely.

Review by Harry Riedl


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