by Steve Habrat
Ever since Dredd 3D premiered at the July San Diego Comic Con, surprisingly positive word of mouth has been spreading through the internet faster than SLO-MO inhalers across Mega-City One, something that is very shocking because action films released in September tend to be pretty lousy. Infinitely better than it has any right to be, Dredd 3D is a lean and mean superhero exercise that is both thoughtfully constructed by its director, Peter Travis, and also a thoughtful experience on the viewers part, something this comic book fan certainly didn’t expect. Travis seems to understand that many may not be so welcoming of Judge Dredd, especially after what Sylvester Stallone did to the character back in 1995. Well, you can all breathe a sigh of relief because there is no Rob Schneider here. While Dredd 3D didn’t blow me away like I hoped it would, I still found the film to be a relentlessly entertaining thrill ride that packs some unique action sequences, dazzling slow-motion shots that look fantastic in 3D, and a gritty aesthetic that resembles both 28 Days Later and District 9. And then there is Karl Urban as the man himself, Judge Dredd, a closed-book badass who is insanely likable even if we never do get to see his face or learn much of anything about him. I should also add that he certainly has a way with one-liners.
Set in the grimy future, America is now an irradiated wasteland known as the Cursed Earth. On the east coast, there exists a massive walled city known as Mega-City One, a violent metropolis that is ravaged by crime and an addictive new drug called SLO-MO, which slows the users perception of reality to 1% its normal speed. The only order in the chaos are Judges of the Hall of Justice, urban cops who posses the authority to act as judge, jury, and executioner. The nastiest and toughest of all the Judges is Dredd (Played by Karl Urban), who is asked by the Chief Judge (Played by Rakie Ayola) to train rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Played by Olivia Thirlby). While Anderson failed her examination by three points, she was still allowed to join the force due to her powerful psychic abilities that are a result of genetic mutation. Dredd reluctantly agrees to take the rookie under his wing and the two respond to an atrocious murder in a massive housing block called Peach Trees, a place where Judges rarely go. While investigating the murders, Dredd and Anderson discover that the massive slum is controlled by sadistic drug lord Ma-Ma (Played by Lena Headey) and her clan of killers. After Dredd and Anderson arrest one of Ma-Ma’s high-ranking clan members, the gang overtakes the slum’s security center and locks the two Judges inside the 200-storey structure. With ammo low and nowhere to hide, Ma-Ma unleashes a relentless army of killers who will stop at nothing to kill Dredd and Anderson.
Shockingly brutal and the very definition of tough, Dredd 3D never allows the action to get too out of hand or take over the film completely. There are a number of hard-hitting action scenes that do satisfy but the brooding mood in between these sequences is what really keeps us on our toes. Travis smartly builds suspense around the fact that our protagonists have their backs against the wall and ammo is scarce. Dredd and Anderson have to constantly pause to fully assess the situation that they find themselves in and devise a plan to quietly slip by the endless waves of trigger-happy gangsters who wish to make Ma-Ma proud. Some may deem that disappointing or, dare I say, boring, but it does make for a number of tense sequences that will have you chewing on your fingernails. Dredd 3D also finds a bit of relevancy in the inclusion of SLO-MO, the drug that is rapidly spreading through Mega-City One like cancer. Any time the drug or its terrifying side effects are mentioned, you can’t help but think of all the new drugs that have been making their way into the hands of America’s youth today (bath salts, 2C-I). Don’t worry, Dredd 3D isn’t a full on anti-drug commercial with an inflated budget, but it does get you thinking and there is nothing wrong with that.
Then we have Karl Urban’s awesomely gruff Dredd, who conceals his mug behind that mean-looking helmet and allows his mouth to droop into a scruffy frown. Dredd is incredibly fascinating even if we virtually know nothing about him. At one point, Anderson uses her psychic abilities to discover that Dredd is hiding some pain and anger underneath that cool helmet but we never learn what that pain and anger stems from. Dredd can also be darkly hilarious, especially when a couple of young wannabe thugs decide they are going to confront him. Anderson certainly has her fair share of emotional baggage and she ends up with even more as she trains to be a full on Judge. As the situations she faces become more and more disturbing, doubt begins to set in. Then there is Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma, one of the most fun comic book movie villains I’ve seen in quite a while. She nearly steals the show with her junkie slump, her hacked hair, her rotten teeth, and scarred face. She is eerily calm as she aims a Gatling gun at Dredd and mows down countless innocent bystanders. She is truly a villain that you want to see Dredd confront and execute. Believe me.
At a slim and trim ninety minutes, there is never a dull moment in Dredd 3D. There is countless glimmering slow motion shots that find bullets barreling through faces as blood and brain bits come dancing out of the screen at us. One scene finds the camera acting as the POV of one of Ma-Ma’s victims as they tumble 200-stories to their death. If you suffer from acrophobia, you may want to close your eyes during that particular scene. There is one sequence that finds Anderson entering the mind of one of Ma-Ma’s thugs and I will warn you, it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. The film does seem to run out of steam at the end, especially during the final showdown between Ma-Ma and Dredd. You fully expect there to be plenty of fireworks but it is a fairly calm confrontation that leaves the viewer wanting a little more. You’d at least expect Ma-Ma to put up more of a fight, especially since she is so sadistic through the other eighty minutes of the film. Still, Dredd 3D makes good use of its R-rating and it certainly doesn’t hesitate to deliver on all the blood, guts, and gore you can handle. The film also had a pretty effective score; a thumping industrial beat from Paul Leonard-Morgan that uses filthy synths to compliment the decaying steel of Peach Trees. With Mega-City One being such a sprawling metropolis, I firmly believe that we haven’t seen the last of Urban’s Dredd. There is plenty more to explore with this character and I hope that he gets a follow up. Overall, if you’re sick of the Resident Evil franchise and looking for some edgy action to shake you out of your early fall ennui, Dredd 3D will do the trick.