Comic book fans can rejoice, and throw out your copies of that awful Sylvester Stallone version, because here comes the Judge .
Post-apocalyptic America is the setting for this grim “cops and robbers” tale that maintains the hyper-violence and “Dirty Harry” style cynicism of John Wagner’s comic hero. The story begins with a quick rundown of the situation. America is mostly a wasteland with mega-cities taking the place of states. Each city is enormous and overpopulated. The crime rate is so high that government has elected to combine law enforcement with the courts. Your cop is also your judge and your jury .
That said, they are still so overwhelmed that they can only answer 6 percent of all 911 calls. While this means there are lots of cats left in trees, the good news is that there aren’t that many trees left.
The opening scene gives us a look at Dredd as he responds to a call. Three bad guys don’t even make him break a sweat, but we do get a look at his awesome gun that can fire bullets, gas bombs, fire bombs and even the occasional stun ray. Dredd mops up the scene and heads back to headquarters, where he is assigned a rookie to evaluate, Judge Anderson. The bad news is that she is young, a tad naive, and missed passing her written exam. That said, she is a gifted a mind-reader, so the brass want to give her a shot. Any judge who can read minds can also bypass tons of annoying paperwork, like sifting through witness statements.
Dredd takes the young Anderson out on patrol and they soon find themselves in deep trouble when they take a prisoner in a 200-level slum, called Peachtree. Turns out this building is also home to a crime “queenpin” named Ma-Ma. She has quietly taken over every level of the building to house her booming drug business which specializes in Slo-Mo. The drug has a powerful effect which allows the user to perceive reality at a snail’s pace, though why anyone living in this grim future would want to drag out a moment is beyond me.
Turns out their prisoner knows too much, so Ma-Ma has the building shuttered down and makes it mandatory for all the thousands to residents to hunt and kill the judges. What ensues is a classic Howard Hawks scenario in which an unproven law type gets a baptism under fire while aiding an older and very cynical hero. They proceed to burn their way through the building while making it a point to not take any more prisoners. Each level presents its own challenge, but the most fortified one is where they will have to face down Ma-Ma, and that is exactly where they are headed.
This is great stuff. You get lots of running gunfights and macho dialogue, as our heroes face down a virtual city full of bad guys. Every bullet hit is an event here, with people exploding like overstuffed piñatas. The futuristic setting is far from the gleaming and motorized versions of tomorrow. This is a future where technology has exploded at the expense of the outdated humans, who mostly live below the minimum wage. Sadly, it is a future that looks pretty possible in an age when governments can’t seem to stop themselves from spending money they don’t have.
This is definitely a keeper and the credit goes to director Pete Travis for actually reading the comic book and opening it up for the big screen. He gets ample support form Karl Urban, as Dredd. Urban is wise to keep his face hidden under the judge’s battle visor. The comic book version of the character always rocked that look with only his barely shaved jaw and clenched teeth visible. Olivia Thirby makes for an earnest Judge Anderson and she gets the film’s best sequence when she turns the tables on a seasoned thug who thinks he has her number. Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”) is fine as Ma-Ma, but one wishes she had even more screen time.
Bring on the sequels.
Best line: “She feminized the guy with her teeth.”
2012, rated R.