Mega City One is widescreen for 800 million people. Its streets are legion. 12 serious crimes every minute. 17,000 crimes a day. The law can only respond to 6% of them. Rotting unnoticed in a back alley are the corpses of the Avengers piled high next to the slumped bodies of Batman and Spiderman. This blockbuster bloodbath was shocking and unexpected performed execution style. Lycra costumes just don’t cut it in this dystopian future. To take on this city you need judge, jury and executioner. You need Dredd.
Dredd is all chin and leather, duty and one-liners. He’s the fascist response to the nuclear apocalypse, turbo death on a Lawmaster motorbike-a Judge. Imagine “Dirty Harry” with the shackles off and turned up to 11. He is relentless, devoted to the law before anything or anyone else. “I can feel anger and control,” states the rookie Judge Anderson when asked to use her psychic abilities on her mentor. That’s obvious but Anderson wants to go further. Not yet. That’s for the sequel.
The city Dredd patrols is in its gargantuan infancy, a sprawling metropolis with vast city blocks housing over 70,000 citizens each and unemployment at a staggering 98%. This is not the multi-levelled, super-tech city seen in Dredd’s comic home of 2000AD. There are no flying cars or sky-surfers but we get the feeling they’re just around the corner. Dredd must guide Anderson through this “Meat grinder” and with 1 in 5 rookies dying on their first day on the streets there is no room for error.
Responding to a brutal triple murder Dredd and Anderson find themselves in the Peach Trees block, home to drug lord Ma-Ma and her heavily armed clan. The two Judges have stumbled on the home of Slo-Mo drug production. Once the blast doors crash shut the carnage starts and the battle for survival begins. If we didn’t believe in 3D before, we are all converts now. Ma-Ma and her gang are ruthless opponents endless in the depth of field, astonishing in their use of heavy weaponry, tracer fire lighting the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. And then there are those Slo-Mo drug shots, drops of water hovering like diamonds.
With a witness in tow and no help from the citizens they are charged to protect, Dredd and Anderson are fighting their way out of a 200 storey Western. Between the extreme violence and posturing we glimpse the wider “Judge Dredd” universe just visible in the cracks and corners. As the camera soars up the centre of the block we see “Chopper,” scrawled and behind Dredd, “Kenny lives.” Fatties lay dead in a food court and are cleaned up like dead runners in “Logan’s Run.”
After “Dredd” “28 Days Later” “Sunshine” and “Never Let Me Go,” Alex Garland is now master of the science fiction genre, allegorical titan and action giant. He has modernised a British comic phenomenon and nailed him up on the screen for all to see. Rather than fall into the trap of wading into Dredd’s epic past he has travelled light with his rookie scenario. Paired with Pete Travis’ exhilarating direction, mature graphic novel framing and jaw-dropping set pieces, Garland’s vision is like losing yourself in a copy of 2000AD when you were a kid, imagining your own film version.
Karl Urban is sublime as Dredd with a voice like Clint Eastwood chewing chainsaws, Olivia Thirlby is edgy, quirky as Anderson not quite the sassy finished article we expect from that character, the duo’s dynamic rich and textured by dark humour. Lena Headley is a scared beauty as Ma-Ma, created in a way by the Judge system of law, Siouxsie Sioux with an axe to grind, the Boudicca of her block and utterly compelling. The time of the vigilantes is over. “Dredd” is the law.