Judge Dredd is a British comic book character that has made very few inroads across the pond here in North America which probably explains the totally unnecessary and superfluous opening shots of a blighted future landscape and narration that is tacked to the beginning of the film. All of that is made crystal clear within the opening action set piece.
As the missus and I settled back to see an action filled and violent dystopic movie about the British comic book hero – Dredd – a funny thing happened. While the movie is indeed action filled and violent, it is also a character study. Not about Dredd. But about the two lead female characters.
One of the female leads is at the crossroads of her life. The other has long ago chosen the door to her life with the realization that it is a choice where the door will only stay open for so long. And slam close unexpectedly and violently.
The crossroad character is a rookie Judge with borderline grades that is assigned to Dredd for final evaluation. The only reason the rookie – Anderson played by Olivia Thirlby – is being given leeway in evaluation is because she has telepathic abilities.
The ability to read minds would come handy indeed in a world where Judges like Dredd, apprehend, sentence, and carry out their verdict on the spot; a last gasp modus operandi in a time where the volume of crime is so great that the Judges can only address a small percentage of crimes. Anderson would be able to remove any doubt of guilt with her abilities.
The other female lead is Ma-Ma played with cold economy by Game of Thrones, 300, and Sarah Connor Chronicles alumni – Lena Headey. Ma-Ma has risen to control all 200 floors of a high-rise complex, incongruently named the PeachTree Towers, driven by facial scars left behind when she was turning tricks.
Now she is poised to extend her reach using a newly developed narcotic called Slo-Mo, that slows down human perception to 1% of normal processing. It is this aspect of the drug that is used the most in conjunction with 3D. Action shots slowed down to subMatrix Bullet Time allow all the particles, debris, viscera, and blood to move across the screen in orchestrated waltzes of violence.
All of this brings us to Karl Urban as Judge Dredd. Having seen this after The Dark Knight Rises the question of whether it is easier to respond to an actor emoting with his eyes or his mouth covered, Dredd trumps Bane easily. Urban imbues the character with a wide variety of e-mouth-ions which along with his voice tone convey exactly what his character is thinking.
Respecting the comics, this Dredd never takes off his helmet so props to Urban for taking on the role and giving him as much personality as possible within the restrictions of the costume and the premise of the movie. Because of Dredd’s helmet much of his personality remains a mystery. The movie shows that he is unshakeable in his pursuit of Judge Justice.
There is a hint of something more to Dredd when Anderson probes his mind but what she finds is never made specific and followed up upon.
This makes the decision to flesh out the two female characters a very clever one. They act as sounding board for Dredd to bounce his thoughts off about being a Judge and being a criminal.
The bulk of the movie takes place within the locked down confines of the PeachTree Towers which is a world until itself. People live out their lives there with different floors representing different affiliations be they cultural, religious, or gang based. Throughout them all, Ma-Ma reigns supreme.
In the confines of the tower, the two Judges battle it out with Ma-Ma and her minions leading to action sequences heavily reliant on guns. And if the Judges carry weapons that seem like a high powered Swiss Army knife a la Dry Who’s – Sonic Screwdriver or Star Wars R2D2 – so be it.
Though the movie is overwhelmingly grim for the most part, humor has not been forgotten and is nicely sprinkled throughout to keep the tone from being too suffocating.
This is a movie that resolves nothing. It is very much a day in the life of affair. It is the underpinnings of that day in the life and wondering how wide, or narrow, is the gap between that world and ours that linger with you after the last Slo-Mo’ed body part or shell casing has hit the floor.