Saturday, 15 September 2012


In Mega-City One, a dystopian metropolis of 800 million people which stretches from Boston to Washington DC, justice is dealt out by the Judges of the Justice Department. These lone law enforcement agents act as Judge, Jury and Executioner in a violent and crime ridden world. One of these Judges is Dredd (Karl Urban) who takes out a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) for a final evaluation before a decision is made about making her a full time Judge. The rookie Anderson has so far been unremarkable in training but is the most powerful psychic anyone at the Department has seen. On their first assignment together the two Judges end up in a two hundred story apartment block the size of a small city which is locked down by ex-prostitute turned drug baron Ma-Ma (Lena Headley).

I’ve never read a Dredd comic and was fortunate enough never to see the 1995 Danny Cannon/Sylvester Stallone adaptation so went in completely cold to the story and characters. I understood that there was some sort of big deal about not taking Dredd’s helmet off but that was about it. I also understand that it’s one of the UK’s biggest and best known comics so it’s with great pleasure to report that in a summer of incredible comic book adaptations that Dredd is able to mix it up with the American behemoths and come out the other side as a really solid action movie which mixes the best of the 1980s with a modern twist.

Mega-City One never feels like it’s in America and was actually shot in South Africa. It has a kind of sweaty, tropical feel to it which distances it from the idea that we are on the Atlantic coast of America. This isn’t a major problem though as it adds to the dystopian nature of the planet and the film. The city feels rough, run down and lived in and the tower block Peach Trees which is the setting for most of the action feels realistic enough to be believable but far enough away from reality to remain part of science fiction. There are many elements from today’s blocks and slums which are mixed with fantasy elements to create a realistic and seedy environment of gangsters, dealers and regular Joes that is very reminiscent of real life inner city areas. The visual design of the tower block is excellent and gives it a grimy feel. The special effects work well on the whole but occasionally the blood spatter looked poor. The violence is quite gruesome at times and the film doesn’t shy away from showing it. The impact of some of the more violent scenes is shocking, which in an age of desensitisation shows just how violent it is. In a way though I’m glad it was there. It was needed to show both the lengths that the bad guys will go to stop the Judges and the lengths that the Judges will go to bring them to justice. It also showed how much further the desensitisation to violence has progressed in Mega-City One.

The plot is fairly well trodden and predictable but the elements around it make it very enjoyable. This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen an experienced ‘cop’ take a rookie out on their first job only to get into big trouble and due to an unfortunate coincidence this isn’t the first time this year that we’ve had a plot about law enforcement making their way up through a tower block to face the boss at the top. The plot of The Raid is painfully similar which is a shame because from what I understand, it is purely incidental. Luckily though there are enough genre and action differences that they feel like two completely different movies.

I saw the film in 3D (a rare occurrence for me) on the recommendation of a friend and I’m pleased to report that I will continue to call her a friend because the 3D didn’t ruin the film. For me that’s a bold statement. It felt like the film was designed with 3D in mind instead of it being a gimmick that was introduced in post-production and I have to admit that it added to my enjoyment of several scenes, most notably those which were seen through the eyes of the drug Slo-Mo. There are still problems of light loss and motion blur but these are not as noticeable as in many films I’ve seen in the medium before. This is one of the few times which for I would recommend seeing the in 3D.

The acting is quite good. Karl Urban is excellent as Dredd and I couldn’t stop speaking in his gruff voice all the way home, much to the annoyance of my girlfriend. He seems a little emotionless and robotic which I think was intentional and made the character who he was. He was also great in the action scenes, dispensing justice in a cool, unflappable manner. Olivia Thirlby gave the wide eyed newbie performance but was able to alter it as the film progressed. She had a much more emotional approach which worked well with Urban’s emotionless role. Game of Thrones resident incestuous Queen Lena Headley was brilliant as the ‘big boss’ playing the counter to Urban’s Dredd. Both were calm killers but Headley allowed some emotion to creep onto her composed exterior towards the end. It’s great also that two of the three leads in a major action movie were women and not just that but women who weren’t merely wife’s, girlfriends or eye candy. Their roles had purpose and were well written and performed. I was also pleased to see The Wire’s Wood Harris make an appearance, although his role was limited and Domhnall Gleeson, an actor who is showing great promise, is very good in his small role.

Overall Dredd is an above average science fiction/comic book/action movie. It is well made, features great design and cinematography, and has a good cast but a plot which is unremarkable. The soundtrack, featuring a thumping electronic beat works brilliantly with the onscreen action I’d be interested in going back to Mega-City One at least once more.     

GFR 8/10


  1. I'm glad you liked the 3D! PHEW.

    The North America of Mega City 1 has been ravaged by nuclear war, and everything that isn't a mega-city is radioactive desert. I can't remember how much of that comes across in the film but I reckon MC1 would be pretty hot since the environment is (I assume) fucked.

    The look of the comic is a bit different and at times can be quite camp (eg the dark judges, and the judge uniforms are a lot less practical although thankfully lack the golden codpieces of the Stallone film).
    I think they did a really great job making the city and citizens seem real and believable as something that could exist in ~100 years time. So it's a lot more accessible to people who haven't read the (very excellent!) comics.

    Have you seen the free prequel comic they made for the film?

    1. You're right. For me the best part of the film is how believable it seems. It takes the worst of today's society and adds it to some fort of fall out. Did it do the comic justice in your opinion (the pun was unintentional that time).

    2. Just read the comic. It's good. Comics are something I wish I could get into but just never have. Kick-Ass is the only one I've ever really read.

  2. Oh yeah, it's a really good adaption. The main writer for the comics, John Wagner, was heavily involved in writing the screenplay for the film. They did a good job showing how Dredd isn't really a good or bad guy. He works for the Law but the law isn't always a force for good. In the comics there are democracy terrorists, I'm hoping if they do a sequel they explore that aspect of the world.

    Personally I don't follow American comics. There are no doubt some good ones, but there's so much dross I just can't be bothered to even try. Nothing really makes much sense and it keeps getting rebooted so they can re-hash the same old stories. This is a cool video I saw of some guy explaining some 90s superman plot:

    I haven't read (or seen) Kick Ass, but I'd recommend Watchmen and The Losers as a couple of very good, accessible comics. Both have been made into great films too.

    1. I hope there is a sequel too as the film has wetted my appetite for discovering more about the world.

      That's a funny video! The plot seems mental.

      I'd recommend the Kick-Ass film. I really liked it and read the comic after seeing it. I keep meaning to get the 2nd volume. I forgot that I'd read Watchmen too, again after seeinf the film. But I think that's it. Until you mention another one that I remember anyway! I'll have a look out for The Losers.

  3. Your IMDB review led me here.

    As a 40+ Dredd 'fan' (i.e As a kid I read 200A.D from the first issue through Dredd's greatest futuristic adventures)I found your review to be the most interesting of the lot given your complete lack of familiarity with the character.

    Having that youthful bias I was not 100% sure my opinion on the movie was balanced enough.

    Thankfully, from your neutral viewpoint it seemed to tick many similar boxes; the seminal use of the 3D (deployed 'properly' to enhance the scenes and not for gimmicks), the characterisation of Dredd himself by Urban (perfect, by the way; truly adhereing to the original concept of a Dirty Harry/Man With No Name Spaghetti Western Eastwood).

    So thanks for some sanity there and not just a knee-jerk opposing reaction to many of the inevitable fanboy reviews. Which I restrained myself from as much as possible.

    One thign you may have applauded more - the budget restrictions; a stunning effort given such.

    Word is that if it doubles the $45 million budget in take then there are 2 sequels planned from classic Dredd epic storylines - America/The Pit, and a 3rd movie based around the 'Dark Judges' (a truly bizarre inter-dimensional supernatural horror addition to the future world of post-nuclear America.

    I'd implore anyone who enjoyed this movie to seek out and read those stories in their condensed graphic novel format; you'll find more gravitas and 'realistic' dystopian sc-fi in there than a million Marvel/DC flying-lycra morality tales.

    Un-nervingly it is now down to American audiences from 21st September to give Dredd the audiences and box-office earnings it deserves. Whether is still may remain too grimly British in ideology for them is my worry.

    But hopefully there's a new generation out there with savvy and taste for something less clear-cut and clean-cut; re: the Nolan Batman franchise. C'mon you Yanks.

    Cheers again tom for the well-written, thoughtful independent opinion.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment, I'm glad you liked my review. I hope the film is a sucess in America. At least it's set there and features an American cast which will help. As I say at the end of my review, I hope they do make a sequel. The film certainly warrants one. I might read a Dredd comic, I've been advised by my friend that they are excellent.

  4. Cheers. Yes, your friend is pointing you in the right direction. Sample a few of the seminal Dredd adventures - you'll find your perspective on the character changes because he is essentially a vehicle for introducing this vast alternative future of the Mega-Cities.

    The most absorbing thing about Dredd is not the man himself (although his monolithic stoicism is quit eunique among 'comic' characters) but the fascinating visions of the cultural future the strips introduce dto what wa sa pretty naive British audience all those years back, many of which are disturbingly close to being realised.

    I could never be bothered with the American superheores myself as a kid but much of Dredd had that gritty Blade Runner-esque adult darkness about it to appeal to my anti-dayglo-lycra teenage rebel.

    If nothing else you'll enjoy the grim irony of much of what they foretold about the times we live in. I'm off out to the garage to dig up some old copies now after writing this. A rich bit of escapism for the evening. ;).

    1. Sounds good. I'll have to check them out on that recommendation

  5. There’s an awesome-looking style to it that makes the action kick that much more ass, but in terms of action, I felt like they were missing something. Still, it’s a whole lot of fun. Nice review Tom.

    1. I really liked the style. The pacing was a little off at times but it kept me gripped.