Drokk! Actually, nobody says 'drokk' in Dredd 3D but that's about the only liberty this bloody and scuzzy film of the legendary 2000AD character has taken. Two minutes into Pete Travis' faithful vision of Judge Dredd, 22nd-Century lawman of Mega City One, and the bad memory of Danny Cannon's 1995 farrago starring a miscast and useless Sylvester Stallone will be forgotten.
And no, aside from an opening shot in silhouette, Karl Urban as Dredd does not remove his helmet.
This, at last, is the Dredd movie fans have been waiting 35 years to see. Even jaded newcomers unfamiliar with the comic book anti-hero will be pleased, because Dredd 3D does not appeal to the masses. It's far too busy flying its 18 cert with a bloody pride. Screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, The Beach) and Dredd's creators, writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, not only stick rigidly to their creation but go beyond it in terms of sheer violence and relentless nastiness.
Karl Urban (one of the best things in JJ Abrams' Star Trek) is an excellent Dredd. He is impassive and relentlessly grim as he despatches perp after perp. In an old cop movie convention, he's been ordered to take a rookie out onto the streets of Mega City One to see if she can pass the test of a day's patrol.
This is Anderson (Juno's Olivia Thirlby), a young woman with unique psychic powers who will be familiar to Dredd fans. But you can forget any buddy-buddy clichés; Dredd is a tough mentor and it's a credit to Thirlby that she holds her own against such a commanding central character, because every time Urban's on screen he owns the movie.
Their beat is Mega City One, a cesspit of a metropolis sprawling from Boston to Washington DC in a post-Atomic War America of the 22nd Century. Most of the population lives in kilometre-high tower blocks which serve as mini-cities within a city. Unemployment can reach 96%; 17,000 serious crimes are committed a day, and the Judges get to deal with a mere 6% of them.
Mega City One: 800,000,000 citizens and every one a potential criminal
The plot is almost negligible. When Dredd and Anderson investigate a triple homicide in the unlikely-named Peach Trees block, they enter the citadel of Ma-Ma, a hooker-turned-drug baron who rules the place and is spreading a new narcotic called slo-mo around Mega City. She is played by the excellent Lena Headey of Game of Thrones fame as a lip-curling matriarch with more than a touch of evil and a taste for blood.
The way outnumbered and outgunned Judges fight their way through the 200 floors in scenes of sustained and very bloody action to confront Ma-Ma and if that reminds you of excellent actioner The Raid then 2000AD devotees might well remind you of a little storyline from the early Eighties entitled Block Wars. Besides, Dredd 3D was already well in production when The Raid wrapped.
Even the modern cinematic annoyance of 3D works here. The movie takes on a lurid comic book look as bullets spray everywhere and slo-mo junkies view the world in a psychedelic dream state. Fans of the hardware will be satisfied too. Dredd's gun, the Lawgiver, dispenses immediate justice with a range of ballistics and his motorbike, The Lawmaster, may be a hulking beast but it glides through the dark streets. Production design is by the team behind District 9 and Dredd 3D has the same corroded and claustrophobic look and feel.
But it's Urban who deserves the most credit for carrying the whole movie without once revealing his face to betray emotion. All we see is that grim, downturned mouth. Of course, he doesn't go in for any of Stallone's dunderheaded sermonising either, but maybe it would have been interesting to have Anderson peer into the mind of Dredd himself to see what actually goes on in there because Old Stony Face's grimace. That impenetrable black visor will tell you nothing other than the fact that he is The Law.
Dredd may move, shoot and ask very few questions but he remains static as a person and this is precisely how it should be. Kudos to Garland's loyalty to Wagner's idea of a future cop devoid of emotion but who is not without a soul. At one point when Dredd is confronted by two kids set on rubbing him out, he coolly asks, "What's it going be? Body bags or juve cube. It's all the same to me."
Dredd 3D is violent, dark, and really quite nasty. I loved it. In fact, you might say justice has finally been done to one of the most compelling comic heroes of all time.