Directed by: Pete Travis
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey
Running Time: 95mins
In the wake of a world war, much of the Earth has been left an uninhabitable radioactive wasteland. Near the eastern coast of the United States sits Mega City One, a massive walled off metropolis made up of the remains of the old cities as well as massive tower blocks, 200 stories high that house the remains of humanity. Society has crumbled under the weight of the overcrowded living conditions, gangs and clans battle for superiority through block wars, with the only thing preventing pure chaos on the streets being the Judges – law enforcement officers who are able to carry out the roles of judge, jury and executioner on the spot.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), an elite of the Judges is assigned to evaluate Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie who is under-performing and would have failed the academy if not for the fact that she’s a mutant with exceptionally strong psychic abilities. Reporting to a triple murder in a tower block called Peach Trees, the two discover the tower is the stronghold of the Ma-Ma clan, so called after it’s leader Madelaine “Ma-Ma” Madrigal (Lena Headey), a former prostitute who now deals in a new addictive drug known as slo-mo because it makes the user feel like time has slowed down to a fraction of normal speed. Arresting the suspected killer after a telepathic read by Anderson, the two take their prisoner for interrogation, but are stopped when Ma-Ma puts the block in lockdown, trapping them inside with the gang and putting a bounty on their heads.
To those unaware, Dredd 3D is not the first adaptation of the character from a comic book series called 2000 A.D. A previous attempt was made to bring him to the screen with Sylvester Stallone in the lead role in 1995, but the movie made too many deviations from the comic, and was riddled with problems throughout it’s release including heavy editing of the movie to release it with a lowered rating. It was a travesty, with Stallone playing the part for laughs and a comic sidekick played by comedian Rob Schneider. Worst of all was that because of studio pressures, the character of Dredd removed his helmet within the movie’s first 10 minutes, a gross deviation from the character of the comic, and something that was the biggest of many fan issues with the movie.
Here an effort has been made to be not only faithful but also respectful to the character, meaning that not once (with the exception of a shadowed scene with him suiting up) does Dredd remove his helmet in the movie. As a result of this, it does mean that Karl Urban’s performance is relegated to his chin and mouth for the entirety of the movie, something that some actors would struggle with, but with his gruff voice and grimaced frown, he makes for an interesting and compelling anti-hero. Most surprising in the movie is Olivia Thurlsby as rookie judge Anderson, after her role in dismal science-fiction movie The Darkest Hour there was no way to know how she would handle an almost leading role in this, but she holds her own on screen with Urban and even in a couple scenes of her own, managing to show vulnerabilities of a rookie whilst also stepping up in the situation she finds herself. Both her and Lena Headey as the criminal gang leader Ma-Ma are well written and performed, standing out as much stronger-than-average female characters – a refreshing change from movies as of late.
The movie’s plot does share similarities to another movie released earlier in the year, director Pete Travis must have nearly had a heart attack when Gareth Evans’ Indonesian martial arts movie The Raid (a.k.a. The Raid: Redemption) was released as both have the similar plot device of the main characters being trapped in a tower block whilst having to fight off attacks from all sides. Though it may seem like a straight rip-off of this, this is purely a coincidence. Though the timing couldn’t have been any worse, the two movies were both in production simultaneously for some time, with Dredd 3D being in the works with writer Alex Garland working on the script as far back as 2006.
The movie is rated 18 in the U.K. (R in the U.S), and with good reason – it’s extremely violent and graphic in detail. There are scenes of explicit torture and killing, and in one instance numerous innocent bystanders are seen killed on screen as heavy machine guns blast away killing everything in their path (further specific details can be found in the British Board of Film Classification’s rating site here). This and the movie’s very dark, occasionally humorous, and ambiguous moral tone throughout means this is not a movie for those with a weak stomach. Anyone who has seen any of the original comic should be aware of this tone already, and thankfully it’s another right step in the movie being more faithful to the source material rather than doing it’s own thing – which again is rather refreshing.
With regards to the 3D aspects of the movie, it’s being released with an emphasis on the 3D release with the 2D version getting a very limited release. All advertising features the full title heavily as ‘Dredd 3D’ as opposed to simply ‘Dredd’, and the effect, while nice in a few of the shots (a first person slo-mo shot falling down the centre of Peach Trees being a highlight) make impressive use of it, but the movie easily could have done without. It seems that the 3D has been added to the movie more in an attempt to alter the title and distance it from 1995′s Judge Dredd rather than to add the 3D effect for viewing purposes. The slow motion on the other hand has been used effectively, with the movie making use of that to great effect, giving a momentary moving comic feel to some of the scenes temporarily before snapping back to normal speed, while never dwelling on the effect (like in recent Michael Bay styled action movies). Some audience members were discussing this as they left the theatre, saying they were sick of it’s use, but I had no problem with it’s use here, and it made for a refreshing new look at something old.
Dredd 3D was reportedly made for a modest budget of $45 million, not a small amount but tiny compared to the big budget Hollywood blockbusters it will find itself in competition with. As a result of this, the movie has been made without any apparent ‘studio interference’ that has so many times before ruined such movies. At times the style reminded me of the feel of the 2004 adaptation of the Marvel comic book The Punisher (which was made for a similarly modest $33 million). If this does as well at the box office as it deserves to, a sequel will most likely be forthcoming, and it would be nice to see this world expanded on further but only so long as the budget doesn’t get out of control and the people involved are allowed the free reign they’ve been given here.
As already mentioned, a strong stomach is required to handle certain parts, but overall it’s nothing more extreme than we’ve seen in recent movies, only done with a level of control that seems lacking of late. It’s not a 5 star movie, but is certainly among the better action movies of the year and among the better comic book adaptations in recent years. Gritty, dark, violent, graphic, everything that a Judge Dredd movie should be, Dredd is the law, see this or suffer the penalty of more Adam Sandler/Ben Stiller un-funny comedies.