Stallone is out and Karl Urban is in as Judge Dredd, infamous law enforcer of future shit-hole Mega City One. Whilst on an assessment day with rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), Dredd and trainee find themselves under lockdown in Peach Trees, a 200 story tower block under the ruthless control of crime lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Her aim: kill Dredd and Anderson before they can blow the whistle on her criminal empire.
For all intents and purposes, Sly Stallone‘s take of 2000 AD‘s most recognisable character was a colossal failure, both critically and financially. More of a cult figure when compared to the juggernaughts of the comic book world (Judge Dredd is a rather far cry from the likes of DC and Marvel), the transition from book to film just didn’t work, even with the backing of an A-list star.
Dredd 2012 aims to rectify the previous film’s failures by stripping this adaptation of the usual Hollywood gloss: smaller budget, smaller cast, smaller stars and, most crucially, smaller story. The big question though is does this renewed goodwill result in a better film? Yes and no.
On the plus side, the filmmakers at least have a better understanding of the source’s tone. The world of 2000 AD is bleak and miserable, where crime is rife and human life is cheap (in one scene, Dredd details the shocking statistics the Judges have to deal with on a day to day basis). There is seldom anything reassuring about the ways of Mega City One where its population live in permanent fear. There is an unpleasantness dripping from every scene that causes the viewer to feel dirty.
The design of Mega City One is also something to be lauded. Rather than opt for the Blade Runner style cyber punk aesthetic, Mega City is the ultimate urban sprawl. Think the flat expanse of the Los Angeles suburbs over an area the size of Britain, peppered intermittently with behemoth tower blocks that pock-mark the landscape. It’s a frighteningly believable depiction of a world one hundred years from now that is both stunning and depressing.
Why then has the Farm scored Dredd so low? Despite there being much to admire, the film as a whole is flat. For a story that focuses so much on the life and death nature of the 2000 AD universe, there is a severe lack of urgency that tends to undercut this menace. Both the characters and the general pace of the film plod along at a crawl for much of the run-time and whilst there are splatterings of extreme violence (people are skinned, crushed, shot, exploded, torched, etc), these moments rarely get the heart pumping in the way a decent action movie should. With a plot similar to The Raid (an inevitable comparison), there is no excuse for any fat. Dredd has it in abundance. Had the cut been tighter, the pace quicker, the sense of urgency more palpable, then Dredd 2.0 would have made for a ferocious adrenaline rush that would be mindless but entertaining. Instead it comes off as turgid.
Once you leave the cinema you will feel almost sorry for Dredd. It does enough to distance itself from the Stallone incarnation and really has its heart in the right place, but there’s still an uneasiness about how to handle the material. Given time, a retrospective look may prove more favourable, but first impressions are disappointing. Class it very much as an honourable failure.
Add an extra point if you’re able to overlook the stagnant moments.
Best Performance: Whilst not as physically imposing as Sly, Karl Urban makes for a terrific Judge Dredd.
Best Scene: Torture victims are given a hit of slo-mo, a time lengthening drug, so as to prolong their ordeal.
Best Line: “Ma-Ma’s not the law. I am the law”.