In a bid to stay true to its source material, the 2000 AD comic, this high octane and brutal adaptation remains a gruesome gore-fest throughout. The morality of Mega-City One’s violent gangs is of pure evil. The masses of felons that run amok within its walls outnumber the Judges significantly and understand that their crimes can therefore escape judgement. They control the blocks without fear or thought of the consequences of their actions. The dark setting of this story is foretold in a ten-page comic prequel that focuses on the genesis of Dredd’s terrifying antagonist.
The comic adds depth to Lena Headey’s ruthless and feared Ma-ma that is lacking from the narrative. The only way we learn about her previous tortured life is through the folklore passed down within the block she owns. At first glance it’s disappointing that this brief tale isn’t presented on screen, but with the film being so well paced and lacking of any dull moments, I’m not entirely sure where it would fit in.
Oddly, for a male dominated genre, two of the film’s three central characters are women – one a vile, powerful drug lord and the other an ambitious law enforcement trainee. Unlike Ma-Ma, whose cold stare lacks the emotion of a humane citizen, Olivia Thirby’s Judge Anderson has the most impressive on screen character arc. Partnered up with the leading man, who assesses her ability as a Judge, she begins with a pathetic manner entirely dependent on the hard-lined Dredd. However, once she’s thrown in to the deep end of the job she develops tremendously and soon finds herself stealing plenty of the scenes to show off her talents.
As the lead character, who needs little introduction, Karl Urban delivers the classic badass lines anticipated from him in a fine testosterone-oozing performance. With all critics focus tamely directed at his “great” chin acting, it is in fact his dedicated attitude that must be commended. He doesn’t act like a spoilt-brat demanding to remove the helmet; instead he installs a terrific and true model of Judge Dredd, posing the screen presence expected of the infamous lawman.
The cinematography by Academy Award winner Anthony Dod Mantle aids the story telling immensely. He shows an understanding of 3D, realising its colour reducing effects and his resulting film is never more aesthetically dark than intended. He captures the action in such claustrophobic areas with such suspense, with the built up indoor arena they’re trapped in mirroring the closeness of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Once the action kicks off there is no escape and similarly to the characters, you are forced to watch the brutality with plenty of close ups that display the scars and wounds inflicted in a full on fashion.
While I wholeheartedly maintain that it’s still only a gimmick to increase the already extortionate cinema prices, the 3D didn’t disappoint. The graphic images were certainly enough on their own, but the 3D didn’t harm the film. Dredd’s narrative was never going to revolutionise cinema with provocative themes or questions, but it does revolutionise the disappointing original attempt and what we’re left with is a movie packed with pure awesome.