After a summer season that brought us three of the biggest comic book adaptations ever you would think we would be done with these films for the time being. However, September brings yet another comic book film. This time it is the dystopian future thriller Dredd. While Dredd is a clearly well made film, it continues this year’s run of mediocre successes in the comic adaptation department.
Dredd is based off the Judge Dredd comic book series and takes place in a future world ravaged by nuclear warfare. In one of the last remaining cities, law enforcement is left in the hands of a group of judges who act as the judge, jury and executioner of any crimes. One of those judges, Judge Dredd (played by Karl Urban), is tasked with investigating a homicide at a 200-story apartment complex with a rookie judge who also happens to have psychic powers (played by Olivia Thirlby). Dredd and his partner run into trouble when the drug lord who rules the complex (played by Lena Headey) locks down the complex and orders the deaths of the two judges. Now Dredd and his partner must fight their way to the top to get out.
The film is directed by Pete Travis, who was behind the underrated Vantage Point and the great television film Endgame. With Dredd, Travis continues his streak of successes. He has clear control of the actions scenes and creates the perfect atmosphere for a film like this (dark yet campy). While this film never aims to do anything new, under Travis’ direction it is at least interesting and visually stunning. The only thing that Travis screws up with is using an over-abundance of slow-motion scenes, and even then there is an actual reason for these scenes.
The script by Alex Garland (a frequent partner for Danny Boyle), however, is not as strong. It allows Travis’ visual style to be at the forefront but does nothing else. Many of the characters are written terribly (especially Agent Anderson and Ma-Ma, who should have been an easy home run considering she’s the villain), and the script itself almost seems as if Garland got his hands on a script of The Raid: Redemption.
The cast is nothing special but Karl Urban is a force to be reckoned with in the lead role. We never actually see Urban’s face (other than his mouth) during the entire course of the film. Yet Urban seems like just the perfect fit for Judge Dredd. He is extremely stoic and is able to deliver his one-liners with a lot more conviction than you would expect. The two major female roles aren’t so lucky. Olivia Thirlby is ultimately solid as the newbie at the job, but she really struggles to grasp the role early on. Sure some of that has to do with the way the character is written, but Thirlby is so out of her depth at the beginning that it becomes distracting. Meanwhile, Lena Headey beings nothing to the villain role. This is a far reach away from her stellar villainous work on Game of Thrones.
Dredd ultimately succeeds from some sturdy direction from Pete Travis and a star-turning performance by Karl Urban.