Judge Dredd is the second attempt to bring the comic character to the screen, after the not particularly successful Sylvester Stallone vehicle of the nineties. Critically and artistically it has proved to be more successful, but I am unsure about commercially. I won’t particularly weep over this. It’s a competent film, and the leads are strong, but it didn’t leave me wanting more or believe that the people who made it would tap into the well of potential they mostly left undrawn.
The comic always struck me as a violent straight man cast in a mad future of dystopian society and social commentary topped in garish neon and deliciously over the top. I don’t know if that is indicative of the stories I happened upon rather than the overall milieu I was never that big a fan. The film plays things straighter, and the future is more recognisable as an extension of our present. Its understandable from a budgetary and artistic point of view, but it means that the character of Dredd seems much more grounded in the world around him and he doesn’t become a cypher in a world of absurdity as much as a logical participant in a grim reality. It loses something.
Our real point of view character is Judge Anderson, who is undergoing an assessment to find out if she is suitable to work in the world of the Judges. This is partially for the aim of exposition, as people who are unfamiliar with Dredd are far more likely to see the film than those who are, but it is also because Dredd never removes his helmet the entire way through the film. We need a character who can emote and express, not just one who spends the entire film either snarling or scowling.
There is a certain purity to the film, particularly in Urban’s portrayal as Dredd. There is no romantic sub-plot, no humorous characters, no extraneous scenes or secondary objectives: Dredd and Anderson go to investigate a multiple killing and struggle to survive as the perpetrators try to kill them. Along the way a lot of people die, including innocents in the cross fire and a large quantity of criminals. Some of these deaths are imaginative or serve the overall plot (if only to show how ruthless the villains are or give the story a sense of place and scale) but an awful lot are perfunctory. And that is my real feeling about the film: it does its job and nothing about it is particularly wrong, but it never really shows wit or flair and never really excites or stirs anything in me. But I didn’t hate it.