Dredd – 4/5 stars

Now, Judge Dredd can’t fly, has no adamantium claws and he can’t move things with the power of his mind – he just is an incorruptible cop with a big-ass motorbike (and eventually, bionic eyes).  But he is one of the most recognisable comic characters to come out of the UK and is the longest running character of the Sci-Fi anthology 2000 AD.   Film fans will probably remember the 1995 film adaptation starring Sly Stallone….and then try to disremember because it sucked.

So, hurrah for Alex Garland, screenwriter of Brit-hits 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go, and Pete Travis,  director of Vantage Point, to pick up the shattered pieces from 1995.

Dredd is set in Mega City One, where crime dominates society. The film follows the eponymous character, played by Karl Urban, on a routine day of crime-busting.  On this particular day, he is assigned to assess a rookie, psychic Cassandra Anderson (Juno‘s Olivia Thirlby), to see if she is cut out to be a Judge.  When they are called to investigate a triple homicide in a huge tower block, they are soon involved in a war against drug-lord Ma-Ma (Game of Thrones’ Lena Headley), who wants the two Judges dead at all costs.

When I first saw the trailer for this film, there was an obvious assumption – the setting and plot developments are similar, if not the same, as fab Indonesian flick The Raid.  There is a huge tower block. A drug-lord. Criminal tenants as henchmen. Cops trying to survive the hit on their heads.  But in Dredd, there are no martial arts or wince-inducing bits; instead you have guns  and of course, CGI blood because no Hollywood action film can be done without it (:p).   It is just an unfortunate turn of events that Gareth Evans got in there first and therefore created a buzz of what could be the best action film in ages.  The release of Dredd seems to hinder the buzz of the forthcoming US remake of The Raid, which – up to a point – is actually a good thing.

The reason?  Because, regardless of the comparisons, Dredd is actually not bad.  In fact, it is pretty good.  Karl Urban plays Dredd really well – he doesn’t put the character on a pedestal and try and stand out as the leading character.  Instead he plays him as he should be – a devoted policeman; sharp and intuitive and by not making him more of an actual person (from adding sarcastic comments or the odd quotable joke) is a great turn for Garland and Travis, who has made their reincarnation of Judge Dredd into a comic character for the modern times.  Thirlby represents the emotional side of the film, as her unexperienced Anderson  is put through her paces.  Headley is creepy as the emotionless Ma-Ma (which is a great name – I know it is a shortened version of her name but in Chinese, it’s ‘mother’), and her quiet conviction to getting rid of the Judges is more engaging than the cliché tyrannical bad-guy.

Garland and Travis work their magic into this adaptation, with the focussed script  and good structure (Anderson’s interaction with prisoner Kay, played by The Wire‘s Wood Harris is an interestingly watchable scene) and Travis paces the action well.  The special effects are commendable too, as Travis shows Zach Snyder how slow-motion should be really done.  The result is quite trippy…

Dredd may suffer at the hands of The Raid fans but there is a lot to enjoy from this.  There is action, guns and a solid lead performance from Urban.

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