Not so long ago, I watched 2012’s Dredd, a stylish, brutal, and many-layered adaptation from the Judge Dredd comics, for about the seventh time. (See also Tim Maughan’s review, “A Comic Book Movie That Explodes Across The Screen.”) Watching it afresh, it struck me anew how well-made it is: its thematic arguments are actually arguments, and ones put forward with a degree of nuance. The figure of Dredd, a man who has given over his conscience to the brutal and unforgiving edifice of Law, has a parallel in the character of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, in an excellent performance), a crime boss whose conscience, if she ever had one, was long since given over to acquiring and maintaining Power.
They both represent order, of a kind, but their orders are fundamentally opposed. The tragedy of Dredd’s dystopia is that neither of them are capable of making different choices: their entire world mitigates against it. For them, in the words of one of the film’s minor characters, Mega City One is nothing but a meat grinder: “People go in one end. Meat comes out the other. All we do is turn the handle.”