Dredd, the most recent adaptation of the hero/antihero Judge Dredd, who made 2000 AD the amazing comic book it was, was easily my favorite movie of 2012. Dredd is above and beyond that of the appalling version featuring Stallone in the 1990s, and though it has some faults, it comes with some of the most stunning cinematography effects and visuals, along with an exciting action chronicle that keeps your attention.
For those unfamiliar with the lore of Judge Dredd, sometime in the distant future, the human race is recovering from some kind of apocalyptic event involving radiation. The surviving society in the remains of the United States gather together in megacities, originally established to remain sequestered from radiation, but since expanded to gigantic proportions with a massive population density.
The crowding eventually gives rise to a huge shift in criminal activity, beyond the control of the earlier legal system before the apocalypse. In response, law enforcement evolves from policing to both policing and judgment – and what previously were officers evolved into judge, jury, and in some cases, executioner. And when it comes to Judge Dredd – he is the law.
The events of Dredd follow the infamous Judge as he takes a young female rookie out on patrol – Rookie Anderson, a woman with mutations from the radioactive fallout that give her a demonstrable psychic proficiency. On patrol, they are called into the megastructure designated Peachtrees to investigate the gang murder of three drug addicts.
But the Peachtree’s megastructure is under the control of gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a formidable and violent woman disseminating a new drug called Slo-Mo that slows the brain’s perception of time. Placing the building under lockdown, she announces to the criminals in the building that the Judge and the Rookie are open game to be hunted down – leaving the pair in a dangerous situation where they must fight their way to the top of the building.
The performances in Dredd are actually pretty good. Karl Urban disappears completely, and becomes the most convincing Judge Dredd ever shown on screen. While he does fall into the trap of that Christian Bale/Batman gravel-voice in a few scenes, for the most part it’s very controlled and he sinks into the role comfortably without overdoing it.
The “I Am The Law” line is not forced nor contrived as it was in the Stallone film, but rather used delicately and delivered smoothly. Urban is Dredd personified beyond all expectations.
Olivia Thirlby plays the rookie Judge Anderson, accompanying Dredd on the main mission of the movie. She portrays the role of the green untested youth going through a coming-of-age – in this case, a baptism of fire and blood, and she does a reasonable job. The rapport and on-screen chemistry she has with Urban is charged, but a decent pairing – without any silly romanticism or wittiness. They work extremely well together.
But the true star of Dredd is in the visuals. The cinematographic effects depicting the euphoric perception of the Slo-Mo rush are extraordinarily beautiful. They were extremely powerful in the 3D theatrical environment, but the effect is only lessened slightly on the streaming smaller screen.
The camera positioning and angling play an incredible function in the movie (more than you realize until subsequent viewings), and the augmenting of visual effects with the camera work is, put simply, amazing.
One of the criticisms that many had about Dredd was a few logic gaps in the plot, but my perception of these gaps is that they were minimal. The major complaint seemed to stem from one particular scene in which most people seem to comment on how Judge Anderson, being a psychic, didn’t see a pivotal moment coming.
The truth is that the entire sequence, and the scenes that followed, are essentially "part of the attack plan" established off-screen by Anderson and Dredd. A lot of people seemed to miss this, but if you pay careful attention, you will see what was envisioned by the filmmakers.
The biggest downfall for Dredd was that it was highly underrated by the distribution groups, and didn’t receive hardly the adequate promotion it needed. But the movie is exciting, beautifully filmed, with sets and backdrops that suit the 2000 AD universe extremely well. Even the most cynical sci-fi and superhero fans will find some value in Dredd.