The first attempt at a Judge Dredd adaptation, starring Sylvester Stallone mugging for the camera every chance he got, complete with catchphrases and Rob Schneider in tow, was an absolute disaster, which sentenced the popular UK comic book character to 17 years in the Iso-cubes for its crimes against cinema. However, after a peaceful slumber to get things right upon being released back into the world, the famed judge, jury and executioner is back in a fierce way with DREDD 3D, which now puts Karl Urban behind the iconic helmet… and keeps him there – a rarity for comic/superhero flicks, which always feel the need to showcase the talent playing the titular character ahead of the property itself.
Unlike the joke disguised as an action blockbuster that the 1995 was, DREDD 3D is pretty front and center about what type of movie it is. This is a hard R take on an already ultra-violent comic series that makes no attempt to hide its abundance of graphic violence, pools of bloodshed and sheer brutality. DREDD 3D pulls out all the gory stops, whether it’s shooting up faces in close-up, crushing Adam’s apples with its bare hands, skinning people, exploding human heads or piling up the innocent body count in order to turn Mega-City One into the war zone wasteland it’s become in the future. And in place of catchphrases and convoluted plot lines, we get a solid partnership between Urban and Olivia Thirlby as Cassandra Anderson, Judge-in-training and powerful psychic that can be a major asset to the judges in their fight for the city if she can pass Dredd’s muster. Between the violence and the good cop/bad cop pairing of Urban and Thirlby, it’s more than enough to carry water for the rebirth of Dredd in pretty exciting fashion.
Slo-Mo is at the root of problems in DREDD 3D, as the drug slows down the user’s brain to perceive time at 1% of its normal has become prevalent across Mega-City One. With drug lord Ma-Ma (a vicious Lena Headey) controlling the manufacturing and distribution of the narcotic, she’s set up for a chance showdown with Dredd and Cassandra after they’re called to the Peach Tree slums to investigate three murders at the hands of her crew. That puts her operation at risk in an area the Judges have left relatively untouched, and both sides are placed on a collision course for each other. In order to protect her interests, Ma-Ma is able to lock down the entire building, and set off an onslaught against the Judges in a coincidental similarity to THE RAID: REDEMPTION, in the hopes that killing them will eliminate the problem. Only she didn’t imagine the killer instincts of Dredd would be so effective, as the rough-edged character keeps coming in order to dish out proper justice to those breaking the law on his watch.
There’s a mechanical feel that permeates Urban’s portrayal of Dredd, almost RoboCop-esque, right down to his dry sense of humor. There’s not a lot of room for grey in his job, and, as a result, the black-white nature of the law keeps the character very stern in his demeanor. However, it’s the lack of personality that becomes Dredd’s personality, with Urban marching forward with a purpose in every scene, not eliminating threats, but simply removing more and more obstacles that stand in the way of his goal of taking down the drug activity Ma-Ma heads.
With Urban taking such a stoic approach, Thirlby is an absolute necessity. Her cute innocence adds softness to the film and a new set of tactics to help enforce the law among Mega-City One’s citizens, namely ones that don’t require excessive force. Urban may have character’s name on the film, but, for me, it’s Thirlby that brings the film together, as she’s the only one with any sort of character arc to follow. We see the experience being gained by the rookie as this first assignment becomes tougher and far more deadly, whereas Dredd just keeps doing what he does, which really breaks down to killing people in a variety of ways.
Director Pete Travis has really turned in a visually impressive film, from the cool drug-induced moments of extreme slow motion to some insanely awesome action beats, like the opening Judge high-speed pursuit or the turret barrage within the slum building. In addition, he’s made the 3-D work for him, using it for both gimmick and depth of field. He eagerly sends some blood splatter at your face during time of shootout, yet also knows enough to keep subjects in the foreground, giving off the illusion of depth in front of you as opposed to moving away from where you sit. It’s a concave way of looking at the image as opposed to convex, which causes the 3-D to lend an extra dimension to DREDD, instead of forcing you to watch a picture that still looks relatively flat in the presentation of its imagery.
Most importantly, DREDD 3D is a whole lot of fun to watch. Urban’s permanent scowl and raspy voice can be laughable at times as the projection of a tough guy that someone trying way too hard would put forth, but DREDD 3D lets its action speak far louder than its words. You’ll find your fair share of “Oh, shit!” moments as Dredd takes down nameless and sometimes soon-to-be literally faceless bad guys on his way to Ma-Ma, and that’s really what makes something like DREDD 3D pretty good. There’s joy to be gained from seeing Dredd hand out the only brand of justice he knows, and the film certainly packs a punch when it comes to delivering entertainment value. As far as cool action flicks are concerned, DREDD 3D is guilty as charged.
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