Set in a post-apocalyptic USA, and principally Mega-City One, a place of barely contained anarchy. The Judges are all that stand in the way of total chaos, and Karl Urban stars as the titular Judge Dredd. He is partnered with Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with apparent psychic abilities. They are sent to a place called Peach Tree, a ginormous apartment block ruled by a drug lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who runs an extremely tight ship, and orders that every inhabitant of Peach Tree do their part in taking out the two judges. Anyone who aides them will be killed. Like something out of a classic western, the two Judges are considerably outmanned and outgunned, and reinforcements aren’t coming anytime soon. Wood Harris plays a murderer and Ma-Ma’s chief lieutenant, whom the Judges manage to apprehend early on and drag around with them, in order to bring him to justice, as it were. Which is precisely why Ma-Ma won’t let the Judges and Harris leave alive.
The majority of the world wasn’t exactly crying out for another Judge Dredd movie, and this 2012 film from director Pete Travis (2008’s nifty “Vantage Point”) and writer Alex Garland (“28 Days Later”, “Sunshine”, author of “The Beach”) isn’t quite good enough to recommend. It is, however, decent enough to make up for that ‘other’ “Judge Dredd”, which was just awful and best forgotten. Fans of the original comic book at least seem willing to own this one, so one assumes it’s pretty close to the source.
It definitely suffers from a lack of a strong protagonist, however. Karl Urban is infinitely better in the role than Sly Stallone proved to be (Sly just played Dredd as Sly), but the character still holds no interest whatsoever. It’s through little fault of the actor, Dredd is just a boring, monosyllabic character, though the hard-boiled narration at the start sets the tone and situation in a not uninteresting manner (Despite Urban’s voice perhaps not being quite gravelly enough. Then again, at least he doesn’t sound as phony as Christian Bale’s Batman).
By far the most interesting character and performance is the lovely Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson, a rookie Judge, and mutant with psychic powers. I’m becoming quite the fan of the fetching Ms. Thirlby, and although the blonde mop she’s sporting here isn’t to my personal tastes, she’s probably the most flesh-and-blood thing in this entire film (despite not really being human- go figure!). Lena Headey provides interestingly calm-voiced villainy, I just wish she was in more of the film. You’d think her role would be one that would lend itself to hysterics and shouting, but Headey does a lot with glares and scowls, and never really raises her voice. It’s an interesting approach (to a character that for some reason kept reminding me of Aunty Entity), and Headey proves to be one of the few actresses who can play mean and tough without coming off as a ‘try-hard’.
It’s a shame that the CGI blood is so phony-looking because this is one lovely, gory film and me likey a lot (The body count, according to IMDb is over 100). The slow-mo is a bit overdone, though. The production design is interesting as well, giving everything a gritty, grungy look instead of the Steve Jobs design of the future that most futuristic films go for these days. The worldview here is one of decay and barely containable (violent) civil unrest. I wouldn’t exactly call it original, but it’s certainly not unappealing, either. The music score by Paul Leonard-Morgan is good stuff, mixing throbbing beats (circa a mid 80s Schwarzenegger film) with grungy guitar.
I saw the film in 2D, and honestly I can’t imagine 3D being of any use to this film. I’m not a fan of the fad to begin with, but this seems like a particularly strange candidate for the gimmick to me. I like this film’s grit, and some of its performances, and if you want all action all of the time, this one makes a pretty OK fist of it. I’m glad it’s not as much of a “Robocop” meets “Demolition Man” rip-off, too. I just wish it were about anyone other than this Judge Dredd fellow. He’s dull as dishwater.