Photo by Denise Jans / Unsplash

Film Review: Dredd

Film Review Jun 9, 2024

by Vic Neptune

Judge Dredd started as a comic book character in 1977 and then in 1990 a monthly, Judge Dredd: The Megazine began to appear. Mega-City One is where this story takes place, a surviving post-apocalyptic super-city where the population lives in ugly high rise concrete skyscrapers. In 1995, Sylvester Stallone starred in Judge Dredd, a film I remember publicity about but haven’t seen. In 2012, Pete Travis directed a remake, Dredd, starring Karl Urban in the title role and Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones) as Ma-Ma, the main antagonist who manufactures and distributes the illegal drug SLO- MO. Taken with an inhaler, the drug slows the user’s temporal perception to one-one-hundredth normal speed. On her 200th floor headquarters, Ma-Ma hasanindustrial-sizedfactoryoperationgoing,probablydayandnight,evenas she shuts down the entire building to trap and kill the two Judges, Dredd and his psychic rookie partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), come to investigate and arrest the perpetrators of three murders.

Having crossed Ma-Ma, the three men were dosed with SLO-MO and hurled over a balcony, dropping 200 floors inside the skyscraper’s central shaft to the main plaza below. Judge Dredd, a no-nonsense stickler for enforcing the law, is not exactly a judge, but rather a hybrid policeman, judge, jury, and executioner. In this futuristic dystopian sprawling city, the Judges have authority to carry out sentencing on the spot. Dredd doesn’t question what he does, it’s simply who he is. He’s there to arrest the killers of the three men who fell to their deaths. Tempering his grimness, his partner Judge Anderson offers at times a less violent way of getting answers. For a good portion of the film, they’re saddled with one of Ma-Ma’s men, Kay (Wood Harris). Dredd wants to get Kay back to headquarters for questioning, but as they drag him around the building, shot at on a regular basis by Ma-Ma’s men, Kay becomes a hampering appendage. Anderson gives him a psychic treatment putting Kay inside his own head, with Anderson manipulating him to find out what Ma-Ma is up to. From that point on, Dredd is determined to make it up to the top floor.

Ma-Ma, meanwhile, calls in some corrupt Judges to hunt Dredd, having by this point captured Anderson. Dredd makes it into the SLO-MO laboratory, gets the workers to flee and shoots it out with three of his colleagues, but takes a bullet through his side. No matter. After an escaped Anderson kills the last crooked Judge, Dredd opens his medical kit, performs a little surgery on himself, not wincing even once. The man is a serious hard case. Karl Urban plays the role perfectly, never smiling, acting with the lower half of his face, the upper half concealed by a visor. He never once takes off his helmet. I suppose this suggests
the idea that justice is blind but in this film, justice is also a dispenser of mayhem in a high rise structure that looks and feels like a modern version of Hell. A wide shot of Mega- City One at the film’s end shows scores of such skyscrapers becoming misty-looking with distance in the smog. The daily horror of life in such a cityscape creates, perhaps, the system of Judges, cops on motorcycles dispersed throughout the city to hunt down lawbreakers, arrest them or kill them. A dystopian society goes hand in hand with a dystopian police force and criminal justice system.

Above all, Dredd is a good action film, about ninety minutes long--a tightly told story. Karl Urban is excellent, making his character interesting and physically dynamic. Olivia Thirlby does a fine job providing some human emotion and sympathy within the structure of a brutal and exciting story.

Vic Neptune writes, makes movies (YouTube Channel John Berner), collages, paintings. Movies made as Rhombus. Film criticism based on thousands of movies of all eras seen. Strong interest in literature: Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, Jack London, Robert E. Howard, Joan Didion, Philip K. Dick, and many others. History and religion other interests also. Favorite filmmakers: Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Federico Fellini. Life without art is art without life.