Dredd 3D, you are about to be judged. How do you plead?
Literally the only things I know about Judge Dredd are that he is a badass cop and that an awful lot of people thought that the 1995 film, Judge Dredd was a disrespectful piece of garbage. Sometimes not knowing much about an existing franchise before seeing a film adaptation can be a good thing though. I quite liked the Sylvester Stallone film. It’s not the greatest work of art but as golden age action movies went, Judge Dredd was pretty decent.
Though, with such open negativity surrounding the 1995 film I’ve learned what Judge Dredd is really ‘supposed’ to be. You hear things like “he’s unrelentingly violent,” “he’s got a wickedly dark sense of humour” and “that chin of his is pretty neat; much cooler than Stallone’s.” With all of these newfound expectations I was worried that I too would join the ranks of the disappointed when Dredd 3D was to be released. But Alex Garland, Olivia Thirlby and Karl Urban were never going to let us down. No, Dredd 3D is the popcorn flick we all deserve after 2012’s numerous tame attempts at testosterone-filled action films with offerings like Lockout, The Expendables 2 and What To Expect When Expecting.
Dredd 3D drops us into the bleak Mega-City One, one of the few remaining regions on Earth still inhabited by man after a future war leaves most of the planet irradiated and practically inhospitable. With traditional society broken, violence, crime and mutants rule the city. To attempt to maintain order an organized force of “Judges” patrol MC1 as self-appointed Judges, Juries and Executioners. We join rookie Judge Anderson (Thirlby) on her final field test as she accompanies the notorious Judge Dredd (Urban) who attempts to take down the city’s leading drug lord, MaMa (Lena Headey), producer of the popular drug Slo-Mo which makes the user’s brain feel as if everything around them is happening at 1% speed.
Just as there are period dramas, Dredd 3D definitely qualifies as a period action (©sjbowron 2012). Almost everything about the film has the air of an 80’s actioner: the sets and most sfx are grim and practical, where there is CGI it occasionally stinks, the indulgent violence is something we just don’t see enough of these days and, oh, the deadpan humour. Take this excellent nugget:
Judge Anderson (who is a skilled telepath) and Judge Dredd are under heavy fire. Dredd growls at Anderson, asking why she has neglected to put on her helmet:
JA: “Sir, I think a helmet will interfere with my psychic abilities.”
JD: [straight-faced] “I think bullets will interfere with them more.”
Also, for those who are comparing Dredd 3D to The Raid, know this: The Raid wasn’t the first ever movie with the “get from here to there by fighting your way through these 1,200 men” plot, you know. Dredd 3D has audience’s derrieres clenched with tense anticipation and awe far more than The Raid ever did.
One more thing that makes Dredd 3D great is that it balances its indulgent action and tender (I’m playing fast and loose with that term) character moments perfectly. Where Stallone’s Dredd seemed a bit too much of an emotional guy and the comic’s Dredd is (from what I’ve heard) practically a robot, Karl Urban’s take feels more like a strict 1950’s dad: He’s just doing his job, working for the greater good. He’s not going to wince or moan about his load, he just wants to clean the streets and protect the innocent. As for Thirlby’s Anderson; well, she might look pretty and perhaps vulnerable (and you’re right on both counts) but she is easily the film’s strongest character.
Dredd 3D gives us a completely formed world. It knows all its rules and has an answer for everything. Alex Garland and Pete Travis (screenwriter and director respectively) have created a solid action film that calls back to the tropes of the eighties whilst also being modern in just as many ways.
To bookend, Dredd 3D is unrelentingly violent, does have a wickedly dark sense of humour, and Urban’s chin is pretty darn neat – and all in the name of that wonderful, glorious 18 certificate (well, maybe not the chin part). It’s so good that I even looked past the fact that the film hasn’t actually been released in 2D as well.