Judge Dredd has been a much loved comic book property but has suffered on the big screen. Director Pete Travis ('Vantage Point', 'Endgame') and writer Alex Garland ('28 Days Later', 'Sunshine') have teamed up in an attempt to eradicate the memory of mediocre 1995 film adaptation, 'Judge Dredd'. Their endeavour is worthwhile, although the end result is somewhat hollow, dominated by its stylistic overtones.
The setting of 'Dredd' is the dystopian future of Mega-City One, an 800 million strong inhabited nightmare - 17,000 crimes are committed daily and the only law is formed by a small force of Judges. These Judges act as both police officer and judge, dispensing (harsh and) immediate sentencing upon capture of a criminal.
The veteran Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is ordered to evaluate rookie Judge, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who despite failing the requisite tests to become a Judge has been granted a second opportunity thanks to her unparalleled psychic ability. Their first task is to investigate a triple homicide at the 200 storey tower block Peach Trees.
It quickly transpires that the deaths are related to a new drug, Slo-Mo, which causes the user's perception to slow to 1% of its normal speed - demonstrated handily in several 3D slow motion sequences throughout 'Dredd'. Anderson and Dredd soon find themselves trapped and the stage is set for their doom as they have to battle their way out of Peach Trees.
The plot echoes recent action film 'The Raid', and much like that film, contains many excellent action sequences while also suffering from similarities in lack of character development. Dredd, in particular, is too much of an emotionless blank slate - all the more so as Urban has to act almost entirely via the medium of his chin.
Admittedly, Urban does a reasonable job considering his constraints, while Olivia Thirlby shakes her 'Juno' tag to become the most interesting offering here. Lena Headey however is the biggest misstep of 'Dredd' as the villain, a miscasting reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone's appearance in the title role of the 1995 version. Her embarrassing nickname, Ma-Ma, hardly helps.
Sadly, we don't get to see much of the dystopian setting. Indeed, with almost the entire film set in the Peach Trees block, 'Dredd' feels disappointingly insular. With its limited budget of around $45 million however, this is perhaps understandable and despite my reservations, hopefully a sequel will be made that allows us to truly feel immersed in the environment and the characters.
★ ★ ★
'Dredd' is out in UK cinemas now and released in selected US cinemas from today.