'But Dredd is a Judge. And Judges are not ordinary men'
Dredd himself, of course, makes a terse statement or too, but there are none of the pithy one-liners that would become the mainstay of action hero dialogue in the 1980s. Or of the short, sharp declarations of intent that established Dredd in the early strips as the personification of the law not merely a man with a gun killing to uphold it. Even his 'I am the law' catchphrase is played down.
That perhaps is the one real flaw here. In attempting to avoid the comedy - intentional and unintentional - of the previous film and, yes, of the strip too, writer Alex Garland has taken something away from the source's personality. And of the character's too. In the first half of the film especially, there's a sense that, but for the helmet, this could be any tough cop or commando yomping through the concrete corridors, gun in hand.
Not a mopad or ten-wheel truck to be seen
Urban makes a bold stab at the Judge, but Garland gives him so little to go on. He has the sneer right, and the raspy, Eastwood-esque voice so many fans read into the strip, but script and direction fail to give Dredd the presence he has in the strip. 2000AD's Dredd may be nicknamed 'Old Stoney Face' by his fellow Judges, but he's no blank monolith. He is here. It's a testament to Urban that he manages to invest the character with any personality at all.
But the action and momentum pick up in the second half, after a stunning set-piece in which Lena Headey's Ma-Ma - a slightly spaced, more visceral version of her Game of Thrones Queen Bitch of the Universe persona - machine guns the shit out an entire level of Peach Trees, and the first and only time we see some BFGs of the kind that might appear in the strip. Dredd gets to operate on his own - which is when he's always best - and can use smarts as well as brawn and marksmanship to mete out judgement.
The last part of the movie begins to feel like a real Judge Dredd story, with the character taking centre stage, more judges getting involved and sidekick rookie Judge Anderson getting to flex her abilities and skills too, and do a little more than trail after Dredd. Only the anticlimactic ending lets it down.
The chin's the thing
This is no glossy megabudget blockbuster of the kind Marvel is churning out these days, but a taut, low-budget, dark, urban thriller. It sure as heck isn't SF, the drug McGuffin - called Slo-Mo, a time-dilating narcotic that makes for some very cute cinematography, courtesy of Anthony Dod Mantle - notwithstanding. Viewers expecting bright lights and spacecraft will be disappointed.
Dod Mantle does well with the 3D tech too, though it never rises above gimmick status. I'd trade the showers of lights, blood and glass splinters for a more colourful and brighter image any day. You won't miss out waiting for the 2D version.
I'm a Judge Dredd fan, and this isn't a fan's movie. For me, that's not good, but for the movie, it's the right way to go. It bravely - in part out of budget necessity - avoids that old sci-fi clichés, the dystopia, and plays down the hi-tech too. The result is a realist hyper-violent thriller intended to be accessible to a broader audience than SF buffs and fortysomethings who've been reading 2000AD since they were kids. It's the most un-comic strip comic strip adaptation that has ever been made. It's just a shame that, in the process, it has taken much of the personality out of its titular hero. ®