Writer/director Alex Garland's filmography reads like a film buff's Top 10 list: 28 Days Later, Sunshine, 28 Weeks Later, Never Let Me Go, Ex Machina, Annihilation... The filmmaker is responsible for some great ones, and his latest, Men, is poised to polarize, as well. But Garland also made one of the great comic-based movies of our era — Dredd, and it spawned his most devoted cult following. Here's a look back at the post-apocalyptic nightmare of a movie as we explain why fans love it so much.
1. It's David in a World of Goliaths
Forget the galactic scope of today's comic-based films. Dredd is a movie that shrinks its world down to one building and follows two characters as they try to survive a gauntlet of violence that manages to be both gritty and surreal. And all those other comic-book adaptations? One of critics' most common problems with them is bloat. But Dredd delivers a slim, fast-paced plot in 1 hour, 35 minutes without being laughably simplistic.
2. Karl Urban as Judge Dredd
Urban, veteran of The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and The Boys, handily carries Dredd as the title hero, scowl firmly in place as he delivers justice to Mega-City One's most hardened criminals. And his involvement with the film didn't end when filming wrapped. He's been the movie's biggest booster the whole time. When critics initially rolled their eyes at the thought of another Judge Dredd movie, it was Urban who assured them that it was a "badass" movie with "leather motorbike suits and body armor and hard-core, gritty, pull-no punches" action. And he's always been a supporter of a Dredd sequel.
3. Lena Headey as Ma-Ma
As Cersei Lannister, Lena Headey won over Game of Thrones fans, but she plays a different kind of villain in Dredd. As Ma-Ma, Headey's face is scarred and her hair is sheared off in uneven jags. It's as ugly as we're likely to see her onscreen (and she's still weirdly hot in a punk-rock way). Ma-Ma runs all the criminal activity in the Peach Tree Block tower, which is basically like a big apartment complex you never have to leave, complete with shops, restaurants, services, utilities, and whatever else you need. She's basically the block tower's overlord and she's totally ruthless.
4. Dredd Doesn't Have Any Super Powers...
Unless you count stubbornness and a penchant for violence as super powers... The Judge's lack of powers helps keep the story grounded, especially since the movie goes out of its way to portray him as human. When Judge Dredd finds himself injured about three-quarters of the way through the movie, he doesn't shrug it off like Godzilla. He sits there and patches himself up, and it looks like it really hurts.
5. ...But His Trainee Does
As Cassandra Anderson, Olivia Thirlby plays a psychic Judge in training, one who uses her powers of mind reading and mind control to solve crimes and capture criminals. Judge Anderson is a key character from the comics who's long had her own title, and her inclusion hints at some of the crazier elements of the Dredd universe — robots, aliens, psychics — that we'll hopefully see if they ever get around to making a sequel.
6. Slo-Mo Makes Brutality Beautiful
The movie's plot is driven by a new street drug called Slo-Mo, which makes the user experience the world in slow motion. Sounds fun, right? It's especially fun if you happen to be a filmmaker experimenting with beautiful abstract violence. The movie sometimes shifts to the perspective of someone experiencing the effects of Slo-Mo, and every time it does, the shots look gorgeous. Garland, who produced and wrote the film, told Bloody-Disgusting.com he worked with the visual effects team after being inspired by slow-motion shots in nature documentaries. He asked: "Can you make violence into something which is purely aesthetic? Can it be so abstract that it becomes genuinely beautifully? Not kind of ballet beautiful but really aesthetically beautiful even if someone is having their cheek blown out or their head crushing into concrete.”
7. It's So Much Better Than That OTHER Dredd Movie
When Sylvester Stallone starred in Judge Dredd in 1995 it was roundly panned by critics, and it hasn't improved with age. It was so bad, in fact, that everyone involved with Dredd had a hard time convincing audiences to go see their movie because the Stallone film had left such a terrible, and lasting, impression.
8. There's Not a Hint of Camp or Irony
As Marvel knows, the key to any good comic book adaptation is tone. While a slightly campy tone might work for Thor, though, the filmmakers behind Dredd knew they had to keep their movie as dark and gritty as the comics that inspired it. So while Dredd may sometimes go over-the-top with its slow motion shots of crushing violence, it never indulges in knowing irony and never attempts to lighten the mood with anything but gallows humor. That approach rang true with fans, keeping the movie from ever entering cornball territory.
9. Karl Urban's Emotional Range
10. It Doesn't Bother with Exposition or World Building
In a time when every comic book movie seems to be aiming for a franchise, adaptations are frequently bogged down by origin stories, expository backstory, and often unnecessary world building. Dredd trims the fat, dropping us right into the heart of Mega-City One with barely any explanation of where we are or how we got here. Characters are revealed through action. The world is revealed through action. And backstory? Who needs it?
11. The Helmet Stays On
In the 2000 AD comic books, Judge Dredd is known for never removing his iconic helmet. So when Sylvester Stallone spent half the movie with his helmet off in Judge Dredd, fans were disappointed, to say the least. For his part, Urban says he was always a fan of the comic, so it was never even a question for him. He just assumed he'd be shooting the whole movie under the helmet. Urban explained: "He is supposed to be the faceless representative of the law and I think that is part of his enigma ... You wouldn't get to the end of a Sergio Leone Western and go, 'God, I didn't even know the character's name!' It's irrelevant."