Directed by Pete Travis
During Preview Night at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con, Lionsgate kicked things off right for fans by hosting a raucous screening of its upcoming gritty reboot Dredd 3D, which has Karl Urban picking up the iconic comic book character’s mantle from Sylvester Stallone. It manages to successfully wash away the residual effects of the 1995 schlockfest and delivers the film that Judge Dredd fans have been waiting almost 18 years for.
We learn in Dredd 3D that in the future criminals run rampant around the various Mega-Cities across the globe, and in response a new law enforcement unit has been created: the Judges, an elite and brutal group of police who have the authority to act as “judge, jury and executioner” in an effort to reclaim the dangerous streets which have become overrun by dangerous thugs, gangs, drug dealers- you name it.
Over in Mega-City One, our titular character has been long fighting the good fight against the seedy underbelly of his metropolis; at the start of the flick Dredd has been paired up with a rookie trainee named Anderson (Thirlby), whom he’s been instructed to evaluate for the Judges program.
Dredd and Anderson set out to find out what they can about a deadly new drug that has just hit the streets of Mega-City One called Slo-Mo, which causes time for the user to slow down to a sluggish crawl, making 60 seconds feel more like 60 minutes. The drug lord behind Slo-Mo is none other than the ruthless and brutal former prostitute Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who has taken over a 200-story project called Peach Trees; as it so happens, Dredd and Anderson are called to Peach Trees to investigate Slo-Mo, and sure enough all hell breaks loose once the Judge and his trainee show up to mess up Ma-Ma’s operation.
As a whole, Dredd 3D works infinitely better on all levels than the cheesetastic 90’s version of the story; this time around John Wagner worked with screenwriter Alex Garland, and his involvement is certainly the difference maker here. Travis approaches Dredd’s story straight on with a slight undertone of dry humor running throughout, which feels far more in line with the original comics, and for those who have been wondering- our hero never once takes the iconic helmet off. Not once. And that rules.
Urban, an actor who is no stranger to the world of blockbuster filmmaking after appearing in projects like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, The Chronicles of Riddick (two franchises the actor has also returned to this year for their respective upcoming sequels), The Bourne Supremacy and two thirds of the Lord of the Rings trilogy- The Two Towers and The Return of the King; and he appears quite comfortable here taking the lead in Dredd 3D.
Performances from behind a mask are always challenging, especially when the audience can’t even connect with the actor’s eyes, so that is certainly the biggest hurdle Urban faced for this movie- being able to connect with both his co-stars and viewers while hidden behind the obtrusive Judge helmet. But Urban rises to the challenge and really makes the role his own in Dredd 3D. We get a sense of his unflinching dedication to justice, his unwavering desire to make Mega-City One a safer place for its residents and maybe even a sense of Dredd’s world-weariness, without ever once seeing Urban at all. The actor’s body language really sells the performance.
Sure, as a whole Judge Dredd is known for being an ass-kicker, and Urban absolutely delivers on that front in Dredd 3D. But it’s definitely cool that in this adaptation there’s just a bit more to the character than his ability to inflict some brutal and bloody justice to those who deserve it, and that’s due to Urban’s great performance that successfully nails the spirit of the iconic character overall.
In a very testosterone-heavy flick (and rightly so), both Headey and Thirlby knock it out of the park and show that women can kick just as much ass as the guys can in Dredd 3D. Headey, an actress who already has a well-earned reputation as a badass due to her work on shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and in the film 300, steals the show as the ruthless and savage gang boss Ma-Ma who isn’t above biting someone’s junk off or killing off hundreds upon hundreds of innocent people just to get to what she wants. Headey’s slyly vicious work in the flick makes for a great “big bad” for Dredd to go up against with her fearless performance. Great stuff.
Thirlby, an actress who has mostly stuck to the indie comedy/drama world throughout her career, does a great job, too, as a mutant rookie Judge who has a few tricks up her sleeves for criminals beyond the guns she’s packing. It’s a character that we’ve all seen many times before- the naive rookie with no field experience who second-guesses “the system” when they’re finally put to the test (hell, it’s a device even used in my favorite action flick Point Break)- which starts off a bit flat and unassuming (if only because the chemistry between Anderson and Dredd hadn’t really been established yet); thankfully, though, we see the character of Anderson evolve beyond the stereotypical rookie and become a lethal force herself in the second and third acts of the movie, which allows Thirlby to have a little fun with the character and make it her own by the film’s end and proves she’s more than ready to continue to take on bigger films down the line.
Dredd 3D does suffer from a bloated mid-section as the story begins to lag and wander off-track around the halfway point; we get a few subplots introduced that takes the focus off of Dredd and Ma-Ma which feel a bit needless and forced, but as they resolve themselves going into the final act, the pacing picks back up and the flick manages to finish just as strongly as it kicks off. There are a few-groan inducing lines as well (mostly due to the very comic-esque nature of the character’s dialogue), but they’re completely forgivable considering the amount of bloodshed and inventive kills fans get treated to along the way in Dredd.
Travis, the director behind the largely underwhelming thrillers Vantage Point and Endgame, kicks things up a notch in his career and not only does a great job with the material he’s given to work with in Dredd 3D but also delivers a stylish and stunning flick to boot. When the drug Slo-Mo is in use, Travis’ slows things down for the viewers as well, which makes for some really cool moments that become a feast for the eyes, especially in 3D.
And speaking of 3D, Dredd has a crisp and immersive look to it, mostly due to Travis shooting the flick in 3D and not post-converting the project. It’s not a movie whose success solely lies on the format being used so Dredd shouldn’t disappoint in 2D either for those of you out there who have given up on seeing 3D movies. But with Travis’ use of slow-motion throughout the film, Dredd 3D ends up being a visual feast when experienced in all its three-dimensional glory, and this writer definitely recommends seeing the movie in 3D if you’re willing to pony up a few extra bucks.
As a whole, longtime Judge Dredd fans can now breathe a sigh of relief; someone has finally gotten it right, and Dredd 3D makes for the perfect reintroduction of the iconic character to a new generation of cinema-going audiences. Sure, there are bound to be countless comparisons of Dredd to the recent indie action flick The Raid, but that’s pretty unfair since Travis’ film certainly stands on its own two feet (besides, Assault on Precinct 13 did it first back in 1976).
While not exactly a revolutionary story, it’s Urban’s stellar turn as the no-nonsense law enforcer and Travis’ somber and brutal approach to the world of Judge Dredd that should make for a brutally fun time at the theater for both the longtime fans and the uninitiated as well.
4 out of 5