With Judge Dredd’s previous cinema-outing being the poorly-received Sylvester Stallone actioner, it’s surprising that he was given another chance. Thankfully, under Pete Travis’ careful direction, Dredd is the adaptation that 2000AD fans can be proud of.
Set in Mega City One, a sprawling megalopolis of the future, the story follows the titular character and his rookie colleague, psychic Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), as they pursue sinister drug kingpin Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Locked inside Ma-Ma’s vast tower block, the Judges fight their way through waves of henchman on each floor to get to her, mostly in chillingly beautiful slow motion, thanks to the side effects of Ma-Ma’s Slo-Mo drug.
Dredd himself is an unusual protagonist. On paper he’s ruthlessly efficient, cold and humourless, traits usually synonymous with antagonists. But there’s something strangely likeable about him. Yes, he’s merely a weapon wielded by a fascist government, but his unfaltering devotion to the law makes him a paragon. A futuristic Dirty Harry.
Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dredd is excellent. With his face permanently obscured by a helmet, it’s an ego-less performance, somewhat refreshing in today’s film industry. Bereft of backstory or any character progression, but that’s the point; Dredd is an unchangeable law enforcement machine played arrow-straight by Urban, with just a hint of dry humour.
Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma is a memorable villain. Quiet, calculating and simmering with sadism. A believably evil turn by Headey, unsurprising considering her excellent work on Game of Thrones. Olivia Thirlby shines as Anderson, admirably shouldering the burden of being the only character with any kind of progression.
It’s a shame that Dredd performed poorly at the box office. There’s a solid foundation for a franchise here. With nearly forty years’ worth of comic book stories to draw inspiration from, the possibilities are endless. With that said, as a standalone film, Dredd is excellent. There’s plenty here for fans of the comics, and plenty more for everybody else.