In Mega-City One, a dystopian metropolis of 800 million people which stretches from
Boston to ,
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). Washington DC
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 .
It has a kind of sweaty, tropical feel to it which distances it from the idea
that we are on the Atlantic coast of South Africa . 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. America
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.