Rating: 3.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
In Mega-City One, Judge Dredd is ordered by the Chief Judge to assess a rookie, Anderson, who failed her aptitude tests, but possesses powerful psychic abilities that the Chief believes could still be an asset in their never-ending war on crime. Dredd lets Anderson choose the location of her first case, and she picks a triple-homicide in the Peach Trees block. Unfortunately for them, the perp they arrest for the deed has valuable information, and the crime lord Ma-Ma who runs the block orders the entire 200-storey building locked down, putting a bounty out on the two Judges. With the odds overwhelmingly against them, and seemingly no way to escape or get word out for back-up, they have no choice but to make a stand against Ma-Ma’s forces.
In almost every super hero movie, the hero regularly takes off their mask, even when it doesn’t really seem like a great idea, so the audience can see the actor’s face. Never once in Dredd do we Karl Urban’s face, and I guess I bring this up because I admire Urban’s humility (though an unintended consequence is that when Dredd goes up against some corrupt Judges later on, the action is difficult to follow since everyone looks the same). All three leads (Urban, Thirlby, and Headey) are quite good, and I found myself really rooting for Thirlby’s Anderson in particular.
I was disappointed when Anderson was captured and taken prisoner (under threat of rape of course), because, even though it’s her first day and on that level it makes sense that she’s the vulnerable one, there’s far too many damsel-in-distress scenes in action movies, and I wasn’t excited about another one. And yet, Dredd doesn’t free her, she frees herself, then takes out several of her captors, and ends up saving Dredd’s life, so good on them for subverting that cliché. I also liked the way they set up her confrontation with a crooked Judge, with the Judge saying something like, “If I see her first, I got her. If she sees me, she’ll hesitate, and I got her.” But when they do meet in the hall, Anderson reads the Judge’s mind, shoots the Judge, then keeps walking.
Dredd isn’t much of a character, by design, but he does have an arc here that I liked. At first, when Anderson is telling him she wants to make a difference, he sort of scoffs at her naiveté. Later, when Dredd is dealing with the corrupt Judges, he’s shocked by how little they care about following the law and keeping the city safe. Finally, when Anderson lets one of Ma-Ma’s gang leave without arresting him, after Dredd chastises her, she says:
“I already picked up the fail when I lost my primary weapon. I’m not gonna be a Judge and I don’t need to be a mind reader to know it. He’s a victim, not a perp, and until my assessment is formally over, I’m still entitled to dispense justice. And that’s what I just did by letting him go. Maybe that will be the one difference I do make.”
At this moment Dredd realizes that the Judges need people like Anderson, who still have ideals, and that’s more important than whether she passed her aptitude test or hit one of his “automatic fails”. For once he puts aside perfectly following every rule, and he gives Anderson a pass on her assessment.
I liked the idea, suggested early, that crime in Mega-City One is so bad that Judges can only even respond to 6% of the calls coming in. I also liked that, despite how crazy things get for the Judges in the locked-down building, if they fail, the world won’t end, or be taken over by supervillains, or anything like that. This isn’t even necessarily the craziest day of Dredd’s life. This is just another case.
Aesthetically, a 90-minute shootout in a dirty building isn’t all that exciting to me personally. It’s a well-structured movie, and there isn’t a ton I can say is really wrong with it, but it’s also missing some truly stand-out scene or character that would make me run out and tell other people that they have to see this.
In the end, Ma-Ma and her gang are not very interesting. Headey is a compelling actress, but Ma-Ma is really just another gang leader with a scar, and her master plan is just to manufacture and sell a bunch of drugs. The big secret the whole storyline exists to protect is, “Here is the place in the building where we are making the drugs.”