In Dredd Karl Urban attempts to scowl away the sting of this franchise’s abominable 1995 predecessor, and succeeds in spite of bare-minimum budget restrictions which dull the futuristic world of Mega City One.
Based on a series of comics created in the seventies and not at all on that awful Sly Stallone movie no one remembers fondly, Dredd tells the story of a dystopian future where mankind lives in one, massive, crime-ridden city. To combat out of control criminals the court system has been simplified and now specialized police officers called “Judges” serve as both judge, jury and executioner. They aren’t servants of justice, they are the law.
Dredd embodies this more than any other, as played by Urban he’s a scowling figure who isn’t so much a man as a symbol given form. He never removes his helmet and we never really learn anything about the person he is underneath. He is justice: uncorruptible, ubiased, and unstoppable. Urban’s brilliant here, scowling and stomping through the movie while dishing out executions to those who have it coming and sometimes those who just happen to get in the way.
Locked inside a giant, mega-building he finds himself saddled with a rookie (played by Olivia Thirlby) and battling an entire criminal organization. It’s headed by Lena Headey who, unfortunately, doesn’t get much to do except kill people and look angry. Heady’s character, like much of this movie, doesn’t seem to have much of a personality. The plot is simple and so are its specifics. The villains are killers and the Judges are their executioners. Game on.
That lack of personality extends to the look of the film. Actually maybe it’s the source of it. The thing is, Dredd isn’t a big money Hollywood production. It’s clear they were working with a pretty small budget, particularly for an action movie of futuristic scale. The script helps compensate for this some, by confining most of the movie to a single building, but it’s hard not to notice that the future looks kind of like the present. Actually it looks exactly like the present.
In fact the only thing about Dredd that really differentiates it from any other cop versus criminals movie is Dredd himself, and so it’s up to Urban to carry the movie. He does.
Dredd is not the year’s best action movie but it’s a good one, worth your time, particularly if you’re a fan of the character and still pissed off about what happened in the 90s when Hollywood gave him Rob Schneider as a sidekick. Karl Urban is the Judge Dredd you’ve been waiting for.