It’s been 17 years since Stallone’s Judge Dredd hit the screens – can Kurt Urban’s take on British comics’ finest export finally erase that ghost?

The answer to that question is pretty much ‘yes’! I won’t dwell too much on the ’95 movie: the dialogue, Rob Schneider, the spandex, that awful flying Law-Master bike, but after last night’s Dredd 3D viewing, I have laid the ghost to rest.

I didn’t go in to the cinema expecting to like this film. I didn’t like trailer: I hated the bikes (think Battlestar Galactica, circa 1980), the MC-1 cityscape which seems just so ‘ordinary’, and I really wasn’t sure about the very young Judge Anderson. And I didn’t think that given all the possible storylines for Dredd, a futuristic version of last year’s “The Raid” would be strong enough to carry the film.

To their credit though, the makers have taken their $45M budget (today’s money) and put it to better use the ’95 crew did with $70M back then. It’s not perfect, but they did the best with what they had, and they have set up a very credible movie franchise in doing so, re-introducing Dredd to the world.

Let’s start with Dredd. Karl Urban is basically doing Clint Eastwood doing Dirty Harry – which is exactly what I want. He is terse, uncompromising, and sarcastic when required, whilst totally dispensing with any of the flamboyance that Stallone had used. He’s brutal & ruthless, and even when ‘lenient’ he gives nothing away. And – he never removes his helmet!!! This is the Dredd we want. His uniform is not quite lifted from the comic as Stallone’s was, but it’s real-world and practical – when you think about it, a Dredd in spandex dripping with gold-chain would get the **** beaten out of him. The Law-Master bike is underwhelming, but wisely they don’t use it a lot, and they can improve it in the next films with a bigger budget. The Law-Giver is brilliant – straight out of the comic!

The one creditable thing that Stallone’s film captured perfectly, was Mega-City One: the crowded mile-high sky-scrapers piled on top of each other, flying cars, criss-cross motorways in the air the streets and vehicles – but in truth, that’s probably where the vast amount of the budget went. This Mega-City is clearly still in its infancy. There are huge sprawling blocks but they are sparsely situated. The vehicles look largely like today’s motorway traffic, and there are no robots. For this reason, I’m guessing they decided to confine the whole film (and the budget) to one block, and it works, as they do a very good job: it’s dank, gloomy, depressing and very claustrophobic. Again, I think moving forward, with a bigger budget, they could introduce construction robotics on a wide scale to MC-1, and then build the city up over a few short years, thus adhering to Dredd’s timeline & age.

One of the worst mistakes of the Stallone movie was trying to cram in so many strong characters into “pig’s breakfast” of a storyline. They had Rico, the Angel Gang, Block Wars, an ABC Warrior,  The Long Walk etc all mixed up into a story about cloning. Dredd 3D by stark contrast takes a very simple storyline to introduce Dredd, Anderson and Mega-City One. A straight-forward drug-bust that turns into a block lock-down and an all out battleground between the two judges and the extremely violent gang members. And it is extremely violent… the first 5 minutes waste no time establishing how brutal this film is going to be – and that’s what Dredd’s world is: a meat grinder that churns people up and spits them out! In terms, of supporting the two characters, you have polar opposites in villain Ma-Ma, and rookie Judge Anderson.

The latter, I have to say, is brilliant. Olivia Thirlby is excellent as the young, border-line pass rookie who gets Dredd as her examiner for her final assessment, and the writers handle her mutant psi abilities very deftly so that it is not used as a ‘catch-all’ to get her out of every situation. It will be interesting to see her develop in the future films, and she was never a favourite for me in the comics (I was more of a Hershey fan – strangely helped by Diane Lane’s casting in ’95!).

Ma-Ma on the other hand, is pure evil. You don’t even recognised Lena Headey under all those scars, but just imagine her ruthless, calculating, conniving tactics from Game of Thrones, mixed together with a physical presence & ability to inflict pain and death. Ma-Ma commands an army of minions, but she is not afraid to lead the fray and get her hands bloody – human life means very little to her, and there is no room for sentiment in her domain.

All in all, despite all my reservations (I’m tucking into humble pie as I write), Dredd 3D was a well executed re-introduction of Dredd, I really recommend seeing this, and investing in the hope that there are more films. I look forward to seeing how they spend the extra budget money in the sequels, as Mega-City one evolves and its technology improves exponentially to add robots (and better Law-Master!). I just hope they follow on from this one, in that a simple, focussed, uncluttered story works – after all, some of Dredd’s best story were spread across only a few pages…

Rating: 4/5
Reporter: SilverFox

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  1. deanjsimons /

    Loved this film. I haven’t had this much fun at the movies in months.

  2. Dean – I’m still eating humble pie over my initial reservations, and yes, it was totally great! 🙂

  3. michael /

    Rumor has it that Karl Urban is making Dirty Harry Movies is this true?

    • Michael, I really hope not. The Dirty Harry films (except the last one ‘The Dead Pool’) were iconic of their time, and Eastwood made the part his. It would be like remaking the Connery Bonds movies, or the Die Hard films. That said Karl Urban has done what was required: Dredd is Harry Callaghan / Eastwood with a helmet – making a Harry movie would just detract from that…

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