Director Pete Travis successfully reboots the iconic comic book character Judge Dredd for a hyper-violent film that explodes in 3D. Karl Urban was born to play the role and his respect for the property and character shows as he screams judgement and executes gang members and offenders in bloody fashion. Dredd 3D is the remake we deserved and Travis’ futuristic visuals mixed with Urban’s restrained performance makes for a bloody good show that leaves you wanting more.
Sometime in the near future things go to complete shit. Cities become mega-cities and gang violence and crime reaches an all-time high. Outside of the city’s boundaries are barren wastelands that are radioactive and pretty much unlivable. Police have been renamed as Judges and they now act as judge, jury and executioner. Dredd (Karl Urban) is one of the most feared, if only because he’s absolutely 100% incorruptible. He’s given the task of training in a rookie Judge named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) and it just so happens to be on the day that they receive a call to one of the city’s giant tower-like apartment buildings.
They enter the building and soon realize that the homicide call is something much larger and much more dangerous. The leader of the most dominant gang on the apartment block orders for complete lock down, leaving Dredd and Anderson stuck inside a building full of hundreds of enemies and no way out.
Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) is the gang leader that is hell-bent on either killing the Judges or making sure one of her members doesn’t leave the building with the Judges for questioning back at Judge HQ. She’s known for her violence and brutality, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Making things worse is a new drug on the street called SLO-MO, which makes the brain function/movement work at a fraction of the normal rate. This drug is Ma-Ma’s creation and she won’t stop until the Judges are dead or gone and the drug is on the streets without any interruption.
Dredd 3D sets up all of this very quickly and very effectively, with Dredd wasting dozens of gang members in a violent fashion before the 20 minute mark. Director Pete Travis understands what fans of the character wants and he delivers in spades. The film eases into a familiar plot or situation that I refer to as storming the castle. It was used earlier this year in The Raid: Redemption and it involves the main characters getting trapped in a building and having to work their way up to a specific level.
It’s worth noting that Dredd was in production or at the very least already written before The Raid even came out, so people claiming that it’s a copy should just move along. It’s also worth noting that there’s nothing wrong with films using the same structure as long as the outcome is unique in execution. Dredd 3D is very different, echoing classic B-movies of the 80s and 90s, while also carving out a dark future for the very genre in which it exists in.
Travis’ film doesn’t have the most dense plot or the best of acting, but that’s because it doesn’t need any of that to be a completely entertaining ride. Karl Urban‘s performance is helmet-enclosed for the entire film (much like the comics) and the most he ever says is one-liners. It works though, because Judge Dredd was never known for his extensive train of thought or deep philosophical look on life. He kills not because he wants to, but because he has to. It’s the law and he’ll be damned if anyone is going to try and alter that with his knowledge.
Urban’s faceless performance is iconic and the perfect role for him. He’s a cross between a Terminator and The Punisher and it’s the perfect bad ass.
Olivia Thirlby‘s rookie character isn’t nearly as fun or as engaging as Urban’s, but she fills in the holes with her more relatable and more human approach to the future and the chaos that it holds. Thirlby also does a bit of ass kicking, which is refreshing and actually believable. I was slightly worried when I read of her casting, but she reassures within minutes and holds her own when standing next to Urban.
Lena Headey plays Ma-Ma with a scar on her face and a sickening backstory that involves rape and lots and lots of murder. She walks through the movie mostly unphased by the world around her, but she’s evil enough to make you want to cheer for Dredd and Anderson as they scale the darkly lit complex.
The real winner in the film is the 3D and the use of stylistic editing and steady camera movement by director Pete Travis. He not only layers the film with that red good stuff, but he also gets creative in his use of violence. When gang members are under the influence of SLO-MO their entire world slows down, which makes for some awesome kills as Dredd busts through the door and starts to unload bullet after bullet. The 3D enhances the style with blood, smoke and flesh flying in every direction.
Dredd 3D is absolutely crazy and a boatload of fun. It makes for an excellent double feature to run with Punisher: War Zone, although it’s not as fast-paced and off-the-walls. Dredd 3D is the type of high-octane action that we desperately need so much more of in cinema right now. It’s dark and rough around the edges, but a hell of a way to kill 2 hours. The neon lights mixed with the techno-heavy score will make it feel like you’re playing your way through a video game. The 3D actually accounts for a sizable chunk of the fun and for once doesn’t feel like an added surcharge.
Approach Dredd 3D as modern day B-movie done up with lots of style and flare and equal amounts of blood and gore and you’ll have no problem enjoying it or finding more to like about it than to hate. It’s far from genre-defining or game-changing, but it sticks to what it knows and what it knows is how to provide mindless entertainment.
Dredd 3D – 8/10