I’m a huge fan of the comic 2000AD and the character Judge Dredd since 1979, and this film completely satisfied me. They changed all the right things and kept all the right things. Director Pete Travis tackled the problem of filming a comic book by making something that looks nothing like a comic book and more like an action movie shot on location, with a simple linear plot that keeps rolling and never slows down.
Megacity 1 is made markedly less futuristic than the comic in order to become so believable that it is hard to tell where the real slums of Cape Town end and the CGI kilometre high city blocks start. I have an uncomfortable feeling that in less than a hundred years cities like this may actually exist.
The comic Judge’s uniform works on paper but can’t in real life – giant golden eagles, shoulder pads and bronze name badges hanging off a leather one-piece body suit would sag, wobble and look daft. The movie gives us body armour that looks like it actually gets used whilst keeping the helmet exactly the same. The effect is striking and believable, like everything else in this film.
The plot revolves around a drug which makes time seem to slow down a hundred times, the perfect excuse for scenes of ultra slo-mo explosive bloody (and beautiful) anatomically correct violence that earn this film its 18 rating. Not a kid’s movie at all. Every supporting actor looks like they came out of a gang documentary, scarred, nasty, sweaty and mean. Lena Headey totally kicks ass as the ruthless gang lord Ma Ma, calmly relishing the deaths of her enemies, eyes sledging from narcotic addiction.
In a way this is Olivia Thirlby’s movie, since she gets the character arc, rookie judge Cassandra Anderson assigned to Dredd for evaluation and finding herself on a very steep learning curve. She is vulnerable, spikey and tough as called for, vital to the movie in order to balance Dredd.
How do you play Dredd? He is the opposite of a character. He has no personal arc, never changes or grows. He has no sense of humour, the comic finds that by placing utterly deadpan ‘ol stony- face in ironic situations that reflect off him. And where do you find an actor prepared to wear a helmet obscuring everything but his mouth and chin for the whole 95 minutes? Karl Urban must be a huge fan himself to play the part so right. One reviewer described his performance as “ego-free” and it is. I didn’t see Urban anywhere in this movie, all I saw was Dredd.