One of the prominent comic characters in the UK, Judge Dredd reprises in a new take by Director Pete Travis that is less family friendly than the 1995's version that stars Sylvester Stallone. Graphically violent and unrestrained, Dredd unleashes street judgement upon criminals in Mega-City with fine composure. Despite revolving about a debatable theme on the Judge system where Street Judges have the authority to execute capital punishment if neccessary, the film however serves as a gritty piece of sci-fi entertainment with a well-written screenplay by English screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later).
The future America is an irradiated waste land. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One--a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called "Judges" who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Karl Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge--a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of "Slo-Mo" experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed.
With a colour palette that hints at its dedicated intention towards comic book material homage, Dredd brings about a highly relevant film adaptation as compared to Danny Cannon's version. Relentless on street violence and gangsterism depiction, these elements are further heightened by graphical blood and gore that serves to instill and chill.
Blessed with the commendable screenplay by Alex Garland, the film sufficiently drives with its own diction despite having the film almost entirely taking place within an enclosed building. This reminds one of Gareth Evans' The Raid that also similarly sets itself within an apartment building depicting crude violence, possibly a trending note of recent action genre productions. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) finds themselves trapped within The Peach Trees block of living estate by the vicious Ma-Ma Clan, but the story doesn't henceforth ends to allow pure action to ensue.
The story continues with further in-depth character development as the duo navigates their way through peril, not once stooping down towards the lawless requests of the clan members. This is admirable and interestingly administered by Urban with a high degree of finesse and composure, all while retaining his helmet on throughout the film . The act of having his helmet on serves as a symbol of Dredd's dispassionate attitude towards his judiciary duties while sticking close to the comic book materials.
Typically a secondary character of unimportance in most similar genre films, Anderson however complements the film and Dredd with more than just pretty looks and action-chops. Thirlby allows her psychic ability to convince and influence Dredd with her judgement calls that often provide insightful food for thought onscreen and off-screen. These often banter between emotions of angst, guilt, and righteousness. Dredd often edges her on with his no-hesitation calls to deliver cold-blood punishment to deserving criminals.
The question here lies with the term "deserving".
Audience members will witness Judge Dredd's act of obligatory violence, uncertain of anyone will question the fundamental morality behind it. The capital punishment may be seen as downright neccessary, it might contract the ethics of humanity. Again, this debate may or may not be of relevance but nevertheless a theme noted by this opinion. While the film doesn't exactly address the arguments of the Judge system where punishment is carried out by Street Judges, Garland pens in some "dark" Judges as villains to help highlight the potential issue of having Judges go rogue and abuse authority. For most, this should be sufficient.
Technical qualities are undoubted, particularly the high frame rate sequences of showcasing the effects of the "Slo-Mo" drug that entices people to their demise. Speaking of demise, the slow motion visual re-enactment of the process certainly cannot be more apt in style (perhaps another rational blow towards not viewing Dredd in 3D). Photography by award-winning Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) also helps to enhance the feel of the slums block. One minor comment on the otherwise good photography is the observation of noticeable noise artifacts in a couple of low-light sequences that degrades the film's feel of quality.
All in all, one of the better comic book superhero adaptation that creates little fanfare as compared to blockbuster equivalents such as The Avengers.