"I am the law!" With those four simple words, Karl Urban manages to eradicate the final, awful memories of the dismal Sly Stallone Judge Dredd film of the mid 1990s, and bring the character to screen in all his dour glory.
The scene will be familiar to any readers of the 2000AD or Judge Dredd comic series. America is a wasteland, and 800 million people live inside the walls of Mega City One, stretching down the east coast from Boston to Washington. Order is maintained by the uniformed Judges – judge, jury and executioner, they are the law. And the toughest of the lot is Judge Dredd, a man held in awe by his peers and feared by the criminals of Mega City One. Well, mostly.
Some who don't fear Dredd are members of the Ma-Ma gang who run the 200-storey Peach Trees tower block. They manufacture, and deal, a synthetic drug called Slo-Mo which, when smoked, gives the illusion of time slowing down to just 1% of its normal speed. The gang protects its turf ruthlessly, and when they throw three rivals off the roof to their messy deaths 200 floors below, it attracts the attention of the judges. In particular Dredd, who's got a rookie by his side. He's been given the task of assessing Judge Anderson (Thirlby), a psychic who failed the Justice Department's aptitude test but who the Chief Judge thinks has something to offer. A simple bust quickly descends into all-out war when Dredd and Anderson a trapped inside the locked-down mega-block with heavily-armed gang members out to kill them any way they can.
This, now THIS is the Judge Dredd film we've always wanted. Urban plays Dredd as a grizzled veteran and hard-nosed law enforcer, a kind of Dirty Harry filtered through RoboCop. Unlike the 1995 Stallone film, Urban keeps his helmet on throughout, which keeps him in character and makes his acting job that much harder. He's a man of few words, relying mainly on his actions, but he leads with his chin (man, that's a great chin) and fullly brings to life one of the great comic book characters. Heady, too, shines as the evil drug baron Ma-Ma – a ruthless crime lord who will stop at nothing to retain her power. The emotional heart of the film belongs to Thirlby as rookie Anderson, whose performance is reminescent of Tyne Daly in The Enforcer. Dred throws all the challenges he can at her, and she comes through the other side relatively unscathed. The film itself feels firmly grounded in reality; although semi-futuristic, the dirty, drab, decaying world it creates feels as though it could exist today.
As good as Dredd is, it suffers from one slight problem – a much-loved action film called The Raid. Although neither film copied the other (they were filmed around the same time), both have similar plots – a police raid on a tower block that involves the officers having to firght their way to the top. The Raid was released first, to much critical acclaim, making Dredd's job that much harder. But it succeeds, and fans of the iconic comic will be well pleased with the result. It's ultra-violent, and there are fountains of blood and gore on show, much of it making good use of the 3D. Bloody, brutal and brash, Dredd is the antithesis of a summer of superhero films ... and man, it's refreshing.