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Karl Urban
Olivia Thirlby
Lena Headey
Wood Harris.
Pete Travis.
Alex Garland.
Running Time
95 minutes

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He is the law, apparently

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Judge Dredd (Urban), Mega-City One’s top law enforcer, is reluctantly paired with psychic rookie Anderson (Thirlby) as her assessor for the day – a day that quickly sees them trapped in Peach Trees, a 200-storey megablock, by psycho Ma-Ma (Headey), who, with her hordes of minions, is dealing in a new drug called Slo-mo. Their only way out: up.

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Two long shadows fall over Dredd, the second attempt to get 2000AD’s gnarly, grizzled super-cop onto the big screen. One of them, as you might expect, is Danny Cannon’s 1995’s Judge Dredd, the Sylvester Stallone vehicle that looked the part, but misunderstood the fundamentals right down to the inclusion of Rob Schneider as comic relief.

The second, though, is somewhat unexpected. In an ideal world, we’d be able to see and assess films in a bubble, but this isn’t an ideal world. Just as it was virtually impossible to watch Prometheus without unbidden thoughts of Alien, so it goes with Dredd and The Raid, Gareth Evans’ blistering Indonesian action flick which, in a perfect storm of horrible timing, has virtually the same plot, right down to the chief baddie putting out a hit on the hero via building-wide intercom.

This wouldn’t be to Dredd’s detriment if The Raid hadn’t a) got there first and b) been the best action film in years. And so, as Dredd and Anderson tiptoe down dark corridors, where danger lurks around every corner, or bullet-bludgeon their way through Ma-Ma’s seemingly endless waves of expendable henchmen, it’s hard not to compare and contrast with Evans’ movie, where similar situations led to action that was vital, insanely violent and full of variety. Dredd retains the extraordinary violence (flesh pierces rippling bare flesh in loving slo-mo, a machine gun reduces a head to a pulp, and bodies spiral through 200 storeys before splatting), but the action is rather more circumspect and workmanlike – there are no dizzying camera moves, no sense of building momentum or mounting danger.

That, overall, Dredd manages to obliterate the memory of Judge Dredd (and to a lesser extent, The Raid) is largely attributable to one of the things it gets absolutely, incontrovertibly right: Dredd himself. John Wagner’s creation is a tricky one to represent on the big screen: dour, one-note, humourless, dedicated to upholding the law above all other things, he’s Dirty Harry wearing fascism like his gold badge. The obvious temptation is to judge the Judge and soften him, to make him glib, to introduce back story and a sense that there’s a living, breathing, caring, sharing human being under there.

Dredd’s director, Pete Travis, and screenwriter Alex Garland, the driving force behind the reboot, say “drokk that!”, and transplant Dredd straight from the comics onto the screen. This Dredd is a deadpan delight - he doesn’t grow as a person and he doesn’t crack wise. In fact, the movie generates its few laughs from his sheer intractability – a grunt here, a monosyllabic response there. It’s a role that has to be handled with care, and luckily Urban is excellent. Unlike Stallone, the helmet stays on (in a cute touch, we first see him from behind without the headgear) and, without recourse to his eyes, Urban is forced to give good lower head, leading with the manliest movie chin this side of Kirk Douglas, and growling his lines in an Eastwood-meets-Pazuzu rasp that just about manages to stay the right side of tough-guy parody.

With Dredd unchanging, and Lena Headey’s quietly chilling villainess, Ma-Ma, proving equally monomaniacal, the emotional arc is given to Thirlby, whose engaging Anderson has to grow up quickly as the bullets start flying.

The focus on a small core of characters (including, happily, The Wire’s Avon Barksdale, Wood Harris, as Headey’s right-hand dealer), and the decision to restrict the action to Peach Trees is a byproduct of Dredd’s relatively miniscule (for a comic-book adaptation) budget. Dredd doesn’t have the capital to do an enormous Dark Knight Rises-style denouement, with the big action set-piece, involving Ma-Ma firing a cannon even more dangerous to Dredd than Danny, coming halfway through. Impressively, though, it never looks bargain basement – the murky green/brown colour scheme, along with the brief opening in Mega-City One (Johannesburg with some CG enhancements), clearly show that this post-apocalyptic world is rundown, seedy, gone to pot.

And that murk allows Travis to escape occasionally into the (literal) Slo-mo sequences. The drug, which makes users perceive time at one per cent of its normal speed, isn’t just an excuse for Peckinpah apeing, but for genuinely surreal splashes of heightened colour that, thankfully, don’t outstay their welcome. The film’s use of 3D is often excellent (including the credits) and it really comes to life in the Slo-mo scenes – Headey’s introduction, swirling rainbow-coloured droplets of bath water around in a drug-induced haze, will make this – ironically - a stoner favourite. Hey, we’re not judging.

There’s certainly enough here, despite the clunky action and oppressively dour tone, to make the prospect of a sequel intriguing. With a bigger budget, Dredd could get to play in a bigger sandpit. There’s a whole Cursed Earth out there, just waiting to be explored. But, if it doesn’t come to that, this is an honourable attempt at giving an iconic character the adaptation he deserved. Just don’t double-bill it with The Raid.

There was much to dread about this new iteration of Dredd, but it’s a solid, occasionally excellent take on the character, with Urban’s chin particularly impressive.

Reviewed by Chris Hewitt

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Dredd
Empire Star Rating

An Instant Cult Classic

I fail to understand why The Raid was awarded 5 stars and this only got 3. I watched The Raid last night and, while I enjoyed it, I was distinctly underwhelmed. Lots of shooting and fighting, but much of it a little hard to swallow and my heart-rate rarely gotta above mild interest. By contrast, Dredd was outstanding from start to finish. It was grim and violent, yes. But here was a movie with style AND substance that portrayed an accurate on-screen version of a much-loved character. The film... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hillsman at 12:23, 01 July 2014 | Report This Post

Someone give us a sequel. Someone... anyone...

Okay; not anyone, but this movie was a perfect launching pad for an incredible character. It was grim, but purposefully so - the source material is dystopian and violent, and this iteration of Dredd dared to put that on screen as faithfully as possible. In some ways its artistic strength was its commercial downfall - comic book characters are largely enjoyed by kids, and this was not kid-friendly material. I grew up with 2000AD and loved it; it was one of the better uses of 3D in recent cinema, ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by doctorfishcake at 04:00, 15 March 2014 | Report This Post

I just lost a huge slice of respect for Empire! I'm the harshest critic of movies that I know of, but this movie is without doubt one of the coolest movies ever!!!comparing it with The Raid is like comparing a Jackie Chan film with John Woo movie. The plot might be similar in any given movie, but the approach is completely different. One is a essentially a exhibition of martial art, & the other a balls to the wall action film. Personally I enjoyed Dredd far, far more. The sense of 'Dredd' wh... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by snooch69 at 22:06, 10 February 2014 | Report This Post

Loved it!

I loved this take on Dredd, Urban was superb. The film was visually perfect. The special effects made the violence look beautiful on screen. This film is a must for any action movie fans and appeals to fans of the original 2000AD Dredd character. I just wish they would make a sequel! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by aidofar at 15:27, 07 February 2014 | Report This Post

At the very least a 4 star review

Chris even admitted on the podcast that this should be a 4 star review... this film was amazing. Much better and fully formed than the Raid (the issue of which film was responsible for plagarising the other). The Raid also lets itself down with the 2 on 1 fight scene. Dredd is badass all the way through this film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Count Karnstein at 19:28, 05 January 2014 | Report This Post

"How the fuck we gonna stop this guy?"

Dredd struts his tough guy act, a young rookie fights to maintain her humanity, crooks get high, violence abounds, and judgment is served. In essence, if Training Day and Escape From New York shacked up and made a baby... well, you get the idea. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 12:20, 30 September 2013 | Report This Post

RE: What a Dredd movie should be

Found it somewhat claustrophobic and a little disappointing, dredd falls way short of Robocop. ... More

Posted by Willy Wood at 18:16, 08 March 2013 | Report This Post

What a Dredd movie should be

Frankly it was brilliant (it's a shame the cinema Gods gave The Raid the head start), and its great to see a Dredd movie where he keeps his helmet on, as he should. 5 stars for action, one of the greats in comic book adapations and well worth the wait to watch it on DVD (btw, being an 18 not a 15 another reason for it not doing aswell as it deserved to). It's just a shame Stallone's Dredd movie cursed this franchise slightly. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by gfish1 at 20:07, 05 February 2013 | Report This Post

What a Dredd movie should be

Frankly it was brilliant (it's a shame the cinema Gods gave The Raid the head start), and its great to see a Dredd movie where he keeps his helmet on, as he should. 5 stars for action, one of the greats in comic book adapations and well worth the wait to watch it on DVD (btw, being an 18 not a 15 another reason for it not doing aswell as it deserved to). It's just a shame Stallone's Dredd movie cursed this franchise slightly. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by gfish1 at 20:07, 05 February 2013 | Report This Post


There is not going to be another cinema sequel...maybe a direct to DVD movie but that will be it. ... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 18:12, 03 February 2013 | Report This Post


L: Cool Breeze L: theoriginalcynic I loved it! Much better than the Raid. Pleasantly surprised as my expectations were low. Bring on the sequel. mm.. about the sequel..ote] They're confident it will still happen. Fingers crossed for strong Blu-ray / DVD sales. ... More

Posted by theoriginalcynic at 21:37, 02 February 2013 | Report This Post


L: theoriginalcynic I loved it! Much better than the Raid. Pleasantly surprised as my expectations were low. Bring on the sequel. mm.. about the sequel.. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Cool Breeze at 20:42, 02 February 2013 | Report This Post


I loved it! Much better than the Raid. Pleasantly surprised as my expectations were low. Bring on the sequel. ... More

Posted by theoriginalcynic at 20:25, 02 February 2013 | Report This Post

I loved it! Much better than the Raid. Pleasantly surprised as my expectations were low. Bring on the sequel. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by theoriginalcynic at 20:23, 02 February 2013 | Report This Post

RE: I agree with the review wholeheartedly

Odd one this, it's hard to watch it without compring it to The Raid which is a bit unfair. Although they both have the same basic set up they are both trying to do different things. Dredd is an action movie, the Raid is a stripped bare adrenalin hit. Overall though it was a good movie that could do with a bigger budget sequel. Urban was great as Dredd and they got the realism/cartoon balance right with the uniform (bikes were a bit rubbish though). The only real dissapointme... More

Posted by blackduck at 13:21, 28 January 2013 | Report This Post

I agree with the review wholeheartedly

But I'm pushing my rating up to four stars for one reason - Karl Urban. He's amazing in this, truly he was born to play Dredd. The fact that Dredd is so unfunny, fascistic and stern makes him, at times, hilarious but it never spills over into parody or irony. Thought it was really well put together on a clearly tiny budget (by comparison with other 'comic book' movies') and making it gory, nasty and violent as hell is exactly what was needed. Really, REALLY hope they make another, if only to see... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MusicLovesYou at 07:33, 24 January 2013 | Report This Post


Not a chance this is definitely the way Dredd should be portrayed on screen as close a portrayal of the original character as you will probably be able to get and what is great for me about this version is that it is not an origin story but just a day in the life of a street judge and that is important because that is what separates it from most if not all of the anti-hero movies available and the fact that the anti climatic ending is a reflection of how a street judge would deal with a homicida... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by logan 5 at 16:53, 17 January 2013 | Report This Post

Not Jozi, Cape Town

Most of those exterior shots and the courtyard of Peach Trees was in fact filmed in Cape Town. ... More

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Posted by Enzino at 08:39, 16 January 2013 | Report This Post

Empire gets Judged

Your low star rating for Dredd will go down with your 5 stars for AOTC in the anals of your review history. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Normal Control at 00:05, 13 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Awesomeness

I hope Dredd is a smash on DVD cos it deserves a sequel. I applaud the makers for targeting an adult audience. Unfortunately the box office numbers will tell the moneymen that was a bad move. I re-watched it the other day and thoroughly enjoyed it again. ... More

Posted by CORLEONE at 09:55, 10 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Awesomeness

Dredd Take two for this adaptation of the classic British dystopian sci-fi comic book character. Not that I disliked the first Stallone attempt, I think that has been given a harsh time personally. Sure it wasn't adult enough and had Rob Schneider in it but they captured the look and feel I thought. I liked the plot idea for this film, the two Judges trapped within this enormous tower block and having to take down all the perps. Not exactly original but a good recipe for action, a sli... More

Posted by Phubbs at 22:26, 09 January 2013 | Report This Post


I grew up with the 2000AD comics, and it is so great to see Dredd treated properly for the big screen. There are budget restraints noticeable from the lack of CGI sequences outside of Peach Trees, and you know what, that's a good thing ! This is a gritty, knarly movie that isn't shy about showing the odd exploded head. The action is tight and tense. There is an excellent screenplay from (The Beach) Alex Garland which is stripped down and raw. There are also some nice nods to the comic include... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danielthompson99 at 11:03, 01 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Dredd

In the now unlikely event that Dredd will get a sequel,isn't a much more logical,realistic (given the lo-fi depiction of the Mega City One presented on screen) and also budget-friendly choice going to be a variation on the "America" storyline? this has always been hailed as one of the best stories anyway and it would be a perfect way to expand Dredd's world while staying true to the vision of the first film. ... More

Posted by Lord_Summerisle_ at 01:47, 18 November 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Dredd

So is he going to get banned again or what? ... More

Posted by rich at 18:55, 04 November 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Dredd

L: manwihtheplan Best ever review of Dredd: vie ripped off The Raid. It's not a bad film but it's lacking the creativeness and soul the Raid had Raid wasn't even a very good movie to begin withstealing plot points.eah, he's right. hat's some ill-informed pish a dimwit posted on IMDB, Scott ( ng desperate are you to find anyone with gve to say about this film that you're re-posting irrelevant crap that other folk have spew... More

Posted by sauchieboy at 17:53, 04 November 2012 | Report This Post

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