[Review] – Dredd 3D

3 Oct

Title: Dredd 3D
Year: 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Writer: Alex Garland, based on the characters by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson
MPAA Rating: R, strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content
Runtime: 95 min
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Metacritic: 59

Back in 1995 a film called Judge Dredd came out, based on the long-running comic strip that runs in the British sci-fi anthology magazine 2000 AD. It starred Sylvester Stallone as the titular character in the wasteland that becomes Earth a millennium from now, where people live in these mega-cities because they can’t live elsewhere and because you have these Judges that act as judge, jury and executioner. The film, by the way, is absolutely horrible, so to have another film come out based on the same property seemed really pointless to me.

Then again, as we all know, Hollywood is really running short on original ideas lately, so lo and behold, 17 years later we’re getting Dredd 3D, unrelated to the flop that happened nearly two decades earlier, but telling the same story and announcing it’s added dimension, its total cash grab move, as part of its very title. The fact that it was being written by Alex Garland gave me a glimmer of hope, having been the guy to work with Danny Boyle on 28 Days Later as well as Sunshine and who in 2010 penned the adaptation of Never Let Me Go which I gave an A+ to and is just horribly under-seen.

That kind of gave me some hope, not really that the film would be any good but at the very least that maybe it wouldn’t suck. Karl Urban was then tapped to take on the leading role and the supporting cast was filled with faces like Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey. Then about three months ago we got the first trailer for it and I was thoroughly underwhelmed, mostly because it looked exactly like a sci-fi version of The Raid: Redemption, Gareth Evans‘ kickass Indonesian martial arts film from earlier this year, which I gave a B+ to. It’s not as though Dredd 3D copied that film or anything as this one was probably shot before, but still, they looked very much alike and I couldn’t see this one faring better at telling that story, no matter how many sci-fi elements or 3D they threw at us.

Well, I’m really very surprised to be saying this, but I was dead wrong. Dredd 3D is actually a remake that works, something that I had a lot to do because it learned from the big mistake its predecessor made and never once took itself seriously, this one instead behaving like a satire of itself with a nice brand of deadpan humor that I thought worked well. Not to mention that the action is just awesome, totally over-the-top and I thought the whole visual effects side of it looked fantastic, especially considering the relatively mild $45 million budget this one had, half of what the 1995 film worked with.

I was just totally surprised by how much I ended up liking this film. It’s not great or anything close to that, it’s just that I was so ready to deem it as horrible and a total waste of time and it’s just not that at all; it’s a film that sci-fi fans will get a huge kick out of, that will probably grow in status as years pass and that delivers a vision from director Pete Travis that really translates well on-screen. The colors and the light here are used to present a really bleak vision of this world and then you have this dark self-mocking humor that’s always super well timed and that had me really going for it.

Mega City One, located from what we know now as Boston all the way to Washington D.C. is the most violent of these futuristic metropolis, with criminals pretty much running amok and ruling the place. The latest dangerous venture is this addictive drug that’s been popping out, called “slow-mo” because of how it alters the users perception of time to 1% of what it really is. Judge Dredd is the one tasked with eradicating these things and also with evaluating Judge Anderson, a girl with powerful psychic abilities who didn’t meet the bar to become Judge in other cities.

The similarities to The Raid: Redemption come from the fact that Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma, the villain of the movie, lives in this 200-story slum tower block called Peach Trees. She’s a former prostitute and now drug lord and kingpin, the sole supplier of the slow-mo drug and she runs her operation from that building. It’s really just like the Indonesian film what happens next really, she takes over the tower’s security control room and seals the building to prevent both Judges from leaving or getting assistance and orders for them to be killed as she watches from her base in the 200th floor and we see our heroes fighting their way up to get to her.

It’s just damn fun, with Mr. Urban, having his face covered by the futuristic helmet the character is known for, using his gravelly voice to do most of his acting, and using it well. These days most of the action films that we’re lambasted with are these PG-13 affairs with budgets three to four times the size of this one that try to do go to some deeper place in the journey of the hero, Dredd 3D is just sheer violent fun about a futuristic supercop that’s stuck in a building and proceeds to go on an R-rated killing rampage while there. Simple, yet effective because of how it’s done here.

I liked Dredd 3D, much to my surprise. Instantly forget about the crappy first iteration of the character and really dive into the one at play here a stylized and hugely violent faithful take on the source material. The film looks great in the sense that it really is effective at communicating this horrible world which just looks horrible and hot and falling apart, the violence is a gory as it needed to be, the acting is everything it should have been and I would honestly love (and I really didn’t think I’d ever say this) to have this become a franchise with a couple more films left in it. The box office receipts haven’t been good, but here’s hoping this film finds the audience it honestly deserves once it hits home theater.

Grade: B

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