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Reviewed by Wesley Kerr, © 2012

Format: Movie
By:   Pete Travis (director)
Review Date:   September 21, 2012
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

"Negotiation's over. Sentence is death."

I have been reading Judge Dredd comics regularly for most of my life, but for all of his. Judge Dredd has been a regular feature of the British comic 2000AD since his first appearance in Prog 2 -- which apparently coincided with my 13th birthday in 1977 -- and a copy of which still resides in my loft at home.

This is his second outing on the big screen. The first, in 1995, starred Sylvester Stallone as Dredd and featured a comic sidekick and Dredd out of uniform for most of the film. While the film covered a lot of Dredd's world and characters, ultimately the film was a sad reflection of the source material.

The new film features the always watchable Karl Urban as Dredd, Olivia Thirlby as Cassandra Anderson and Lena Headey as crime boss Ma-Ma. It is a much grittier, tougher vision of Mega-City One than the earlier movie.

Urban wears the helmet throughout. (famously in the comics Dredd is never seen without his helmet or if he is then there is always a strategic obstruction over the upper portion of his face). -- and makes a heroic stab at expressing himself through his chin.

Dredd is set in a post-apocalyptic America where much of the country is a radiation blasted wasteland and the population is gathered in a few urban conglomerations such as Mega-City One which covers the eastern seaboard of America. Justice is brought to the overcrowded Mega-City by the judges who hand out instant judgement on the streets acting as judge, jury and executioner when required.

Dredd is landed with assessing a narrowly failed cadet, Anderson, who the Chief Judge wants to recruit due to her powerful psychic ability. Dredd and Anderson check out a a gang punishment killing. Local crime boss Ma-Ma seizes control of the block and locks it down in war mode so that nothing can get in or out.

What follows is a graphically violent shoot-em-up as Dredd and Anderson try to keep hold of their prisoner while attempting to escape from the block.

The film's plot is fairly simplistic and does not allow Urban to exercise his acting chops beyond portraying the tough lawman, which he does very well.

Judge Anderson is one of my favorite comic characters. While the rookie Anderson of this film is not the sassy, back-chatting Anderson that I love in the comics, Thrilby does a good job of displaying the sensitivity and toughness that I love about the character. Headey is not given enough screen time to build up her character, but she uses the time she has well to portray the ruthless crime boss.

The only disappointment for me was that the plot was too thin. It fizzled out towards the end rather than building to a climax.

The isolation of Dredd and Anderson from the outside world offers a peculiar vision of Mega-City One, but one that is still true, in its own way, to the spirit of the comics.

The set and costume design is much grittier and practical than in the comics. In the comics, Mega-City One is a city of wonders with futuristic vehicles and outlandish sights. In the film, the setting is much more like a decayed urban landscape that exists today, and the vehicles are very prosaic.

The Lawmasters, the judges' motorcycles, are drab and disappointing when compared to the books. The iconic uniform retains the eagle on the shoulder but is now a part of the tough body armor rather than an ornate folly.

Dredd is a much better effort than the earlier film, but it still has some way to go before being described as excellent. I hope that any sequel will offer a richer story from Dredd's long history.

Wesley Kerr writes the RevolutionSF blog The Culture. A good place to start looking for essential Dredd stories is this list from io9.

Check out another Dredd review on RevolutionSF for full saturation Dredd coverage.

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