It’s hard to gauge how one would view Dredd 3D if it didn’t already exist as a disappointing Stallone vehicle in the mid 90s. The new Dredd receives a dashing and respectable facelift via Pete Travis (Vantage Point), whose film is derived strictly from the 2000 comic strip of the same name by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. Karl Urban replaces Stallone this time around, adding blunt stone-faced humor and viciousness to a character that took itself far too serious in the original. Urban isn’t doing anything audacious here, but his badass persona is actually felt rather than artificially injected.
The film is set in a futuristic wasteland where crime runs ramped throughout the streets. Policing the unjust are “Judges, “given the power of judge, jury, and executioner in the vast dystopian metropolis Mega City One that lies within a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Alongside Urban is rookie Judge Anderson played convincingly by Olivia Thirlby (Juno, The Wackness). Anderson is a mind-reader who adds an extra dimension to the film’s futuristic template. Thirlby handles the role well, offering diversity from the roles she usually tackles. Dredd and Anderson’s opposition lies in drug lorg Ma-Ma, played by Lena Headey. An odd casting choice for a villain, but Headey is instantly convincing as Dredd and Anderson’s adversary. She operates within a feared 200-story slum that houses the city’s most dangerous and drug-ridden. The film pits the residents of the slum against the duo, offering up some of the year’s goriest and enthralling set-pieces; a real credit to Travis and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle who work in tandem to create a potent rendering of a future fueled by its toxic inhabitants.
Ties are severed from the 1995 film as Dredd 3D successfully takes on its own identity. Gone are the safe and uninspired locales of the original, as this latest venture is far grimier and realized. Screenwriter Alex Garland infuses the proceedings with a hyper-kinetic intensity that enhances the pacing and movement of the action. As Ma-Ma and her people face off with Dredd, a resounding sense of pleasure washes over us. It’s too fun to deny. The film’s dual use of slow-mo (a reality-altering drug) is consistently rewarding given its context within the world of Dredd.
With a little trust, audiences should react more warmly to this update which primarily takes on the mold of The Raid: Redemption in its narrative makeup. Whereas The Raid was more concerned with technical prowess in its action sequences, Dredd is a true-blue action spectacle with no shortage of gratuitous violence. Both pleasing and eye-opening, the bulk of what makes Dredd so successful is its outright foray into crowd-pleasing bloodshed. There is no apologetic eye-winking for the missteps of its predecessor, as the proceedings are executed at a rather swift pace.
The 3D proves to be absolutely essential in this case. Where most films have it shoehorned in, Dredd 3D wouldn’t feel as complete and functional without it. As a stand-alone non-origin story, Dredd 3D is one of the best times at the theater this year as it casts its shadow over this summer’s shameful slate of blockbusters.
– Ty Landis