I AM THE LAW
Despite being largely absent from mainstream popular culture for over fifteen years the character of Judge Dredd has proved one of the most enduring personalities in the canon of graphic novel to big screen adaptations. Regardless of Sylvester Stallone’s heavy-handed portrayal of the futuristic law bringer often falling into the category of “so bad…that it’s just bad”, the image of the hulking action-hero adorned in future cop finery patrolling the filthy streets of Mega-City One has always retained a visual potency. As with the 1995 adaptation, Director Pete Travis’ 2012 reboot is largely based upon the 2000 AD comic strip, but ultimately the on-screen results are vastly different.
Fresh off the bus from the academy, rookie recruit and powerful psychic (a condition onset by the irradiated wastelands of a future America) Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) is thrust into her final exam with the titular Dredd. Part Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, part emotionless Robocop, Karl Urban’s portrayal of the legendary judge consistently feels faithful. His powerful physical presence combined with healthy doses of tongue-in-cheek interaction with his young partner and criminals alike, equate to a highly endearing portrayal of Dredd. Following the execution of three rogue drug-dealers in ‘Peach Trees’, a 200 storey favela in the sky, overseen by the vicious ‘Ma-Ma’, convincingly played by Game of Thrones’ villainous Lena Headey, Dredd and Anderson respond to the scene of the crime. After arresting Ma-Ma’s stooge Kay (who The Wire fans will recognise as Avon Barksdale) Ma-Ma places a bounty upon the Judges, ensuring word of her drug empire never leaves the tower and forcing the pair to fight their way out. The plot may well resemble that of the Indonesian martial arts sleeper hit, The Raid: Redemption, and the comparisons are evident, but Dredd is far superior as a fully conceived piece of filmmaking, especially in regards to characterisation and pacing, but so it should be with a $45 million dollar budget.
Much emphasis has been placed upon Dredd’s utilisation of extravagant graphic-novel-esque violence, choreographing and labelling ‘Ultra-Violence’ as a form of futuristic high art, embodying the same ‘beauty in death’ principals as the blood soaked canvasses of master painters and the macabre penmanship of Poe and Lovecraft. A technique which Kubrick perfected in A Clockwork Orange equating the hardcore with elegance and grace, creating a complex formulae of imagery requiring hours, days and ultimately decades of rumination on behalf of audiences, academics and censors to fully process in an attempt to decipher. It is understandable why filmmakers such as Travis strive to categorize films such as Dredd with the same, now justifiable and largely accepted concepts of Kubrick during a time in which violence and its proliferation through mediated depictions is so often a hotbed of sociopolitical debate and finger-pointing. Guts and guns onscreen continually face scrutiny and claims of accountability for society’s atrocities, similar to the manner in which the locked, loaded and overtly sexualised era of excess of 90’s comic series such as Wolverine, Prophet and Dredd himself were demonised and eventually forced (for better or worse) to neuter themselves. But ultimately Dredd isn’t a ballet of blood and bullets offering a commentary of the threats which will one day besiege our society, but rather an extremely well made action flick with expertly crafted visuals and special effects – especially the ones which repeatedly reveal human heads have the structural integrity of watermelons. The ‘Slo-Mo’ sequences are vivid and cathartic acid trips, providing a sizeable chunk of eye candy, allowing Dredd to justify its application of 3D tech, whilst the costume and set design is formidable and attractive in appearance. But your brain won’t buckle under the strain of seeing a cyber-punk’s viscera splattered across the screen in 1080p at 4000 frames per second, and the imagery isn’t as densely complex as those involved with crafting Dredd’s visuals so often suggested but rather a collection of very pretty death rattles. What Dredd does provide, as many great actions movies do, is a vicarious thrill, a fantasy in which you can become a deadly anti-hero for an hour and a half, taking not an unquenchable blood thirst from the experience but rather a series of flashy set-pieces and bad-ass one-liners to recite to friends and fellow movie-goers.
Dredd may not get a sequel due to its financial shortfall at the box-office (though home video sales have greatly improved the chance of this happening) but ultimately when it comes to providing fans a faithful adaptation and reminding audiences what straight up and down action movies should be, Dredd has ensured that justice has been served.