DVD review: Dredd

Dredd

(MA15+) ***

Director: Pete Travis.

Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier.

IN case you didn't know, the comic book world is not exclusively made up of Marvel and DC superheroes whooshing around in spandex and capes.

Somewhere in the darker corners lies Judge Dredd, the flagship character of long-running British comics anthology 2000 AD.

He is a brutal man for brutal times - a faceless enforcer who must serve as judge, jury and executioner in a futuristic mega-metropolis that is all that remains of a post-apocalyptic America.

Boasting a claustrophobic tone, stylish visuals, a sense of menace and tension, and a body count to rival a computer game, it immediately becomes obvious Dredd is not your typical big-budget superhero adventure like The Avengers or The Dark Knight. It isn't destined to appeal to all, smash box office records, and sit in the pantheon of crowd-pleasing comic book movies.

Instead, this is a niche film destined for cult status among the fan boys, and as such, it is a great success. Those Judge Dredd fans still up in arms over Sylvester Stallone's much-derided 1995 adaptation will love this version - it's played dead straight, Dredd remains masked, the violence is brutal, and the whole film is covered in a layer of grit. And for those looking for a cool, slightly brainless shoot-'em-up that doesn't totally suck, this is for you.

Set over the course of a single day, the film follows the perpetually scowling Judge Dredd (Urban) and his psychic rookie partner Judge Anderson (Thirlby) as they investigate a triple homicide in Peach Trees, a skyscraper slum controlled by the sadistic drug lord Ma Ma (Headey).

Getting in and finding a key witness turns out to be easy, but getting out of the building alive is going to be much more difficult.

Dredd certainly isn't a great film but it does a good job of what it sets out to do, which is to be reasonably faithful to its source and to be a lean, mean actioner.

As a result, the script is efficient and doesn't get bogged down in exposition or, for that matter, useful devices such as character development or the comic's penchant for satire and deeper themes.

But the action is handled reasonably well and incorporates it's visual stylisations interestingly, the day-in-the-life Die Hard-style plot proves to be a good way to introduce Judge Dredd and Mega-City One (because all comic book movies want to become franchises), and the film mostly avoids doing anything really annoying or stupid.

There are flaws, of course. As with time travel, putting a psychic in a story is always fraught with plot-hole dangers of the "why didn't they see that coming?" variety, and this will frustrate some.

Also, Judge Dredd has all the personality of brick - he is black-and-white morality, cynical yet unswerving in his pursuit of justice, but he's not here to learn or empathise. Any character development has to come from Anderson, who has some nice moments, however characters aren't the film's strong suit.

Ultimately, Dredd is like a gun - not everyone likes them and they're only good for one thing, but they do that one thing really, really well.

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