Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dredd 3D (2012) - Movie Review

Karl Urban is the law!

I guess today was a 'peace officer' themed day seeing Dredd and End of Watch back-to-back.  While vastly different movies, it's interesting that I managed to watch two movies where I rooted for the cops.

If you haven't seen Sylvester Stallone movie from 1995, don't bother.  That movie was such a disaster that I'm amazed anyone even bothered with making another.  Like many of you, I've grown tired of the constant reboots and remakes of older films, but one of the few exceptions where I think it can work is when the original film was flawed, and a reboot has a chance to do things right or taking a franchise in a different direction.  Dredd 3D is an example of a remake finally working.

Dredd transports us to a future where the world is largely a radioactive wasteland.  The remaining inhabitants of North America live in a mega-city simply called Mega-City One.  Many reside in huge skyscrapers that are essentially self-contained cites, having their own schools and commerce.  The peace is kept by the Hall of Justice and the Judges, who have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner.

There's a new drug hitting the streets called 'Slo-Mo', which has the effect of the user perceiving time at 1% of it's normal rate.  This allows for some of the best use of extreme slow motion that I've seen in a while.  It's interesting that just last week I watched Resident Evil: Retribution where I was annoyed with it's overuse of slow motion, but Dredd actually uses it creatively.  Dredd also manages to be a movie that effectively used 3D to enhance this effect.  The combo of the 3D and super slow motion provides us with some of the most vivid violence I've ever seen in a movie.  It was like watching an art film about brutal murder.

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is tasked with evaluating rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thrilby), who's failed her previous tests, but is a powerful psychic.  They respond to a crime scene in a skycraper known as Peach Trees, but things quickly escalate when they arrest a henchman, played by none other than "Avon Barksdale" (Wood Harris), of the drug lord that controls the building.  The drug lord, known as Ma-Ma (Lena Headey),  knows that he won't hold up under interrogation, so she locks the building down in the hope of killing the Judges.  The Judges have no choice but to fight their way to the top floor.

I know what you're thinking, this is essentially the same plot as The Raid: Redemption, and yes, they are very similar.  However, it worth noting that Dredd was in production and filming long before The Raid: Redemption, so I believe this is an unfair criticism of the movie.

Once the building is locked down, the action ramps up, and Dredd earns every bit of its R-rating with its insanely bloody violence and action.  This is where the slow motion and 3D really shine. You literally get to see bullets tearing though bodies.  Despite the brutality, it's also darkly funny in parts.  Between the humor and the violence, I was often reminded of Robocop.

Judge Dredd may be the law, but Karl Urban is the man.  Urban was a big fan of the character, so he actively campaigned to make sure that he never removes his helmet, something Dredd never did in the comics.  In a time when we see so many characters needlessly remove their masks or helmets, it's refreshing to see a movie where that doesn't happen, and an actor that cares more about the character than he does about getting his face on the screen.  Even with only seeing his chin, I though Urban was captivating and played Dredd effectively as an uncompromising force of nature for justice.

I really like Olivia Thirlby, but I initially thought she was an unusual choice to play a Judge.  I'm used to seeing her in smaller, independent films.  However, I thought she did a good job with a role and played off Urban well.  Her character's psychic ability was used in an interesting way and allowed her to be a contrast to Dredd.  Dredd sees things as black and white, where Anderson sees the shades of grey.

Lena Headey gave a nice, understated performance as Ma-Ma, and I appreciated she wasn't over-the-top.  He cold demeanor actually made her seem all that much more deadly and menacing.  Wood Harris was also fun to see as Ma-Ma's henchman, Kay.  I haven't seen him in much since The Wire, so I was just happy to see him again.

Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) and writer Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later...) did a great job of staying true to the source material.  I'm also impressed with what they were able to do with a fairly modest budget.  The movie looks great and you get immersed in this world. The movie never takes itself too seriously, and you shouldn't either.

While not breaking any new ground with the plot, Dredd 3D is an insane action thrill ride that should please both action fans and Judge Dredd fans.  It makes up for the disappointment of the original film, and it's finally an example of a remake done right.  I watched this film with a goofy grin on my face from beginning to end and I enjoyed the hell out of it.  It's also one of the few films I actually recommend seeing in 3D in the theater.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. There’s an awesome-looking style to it that makes the action kick that much more ass, but in terms of action, I felt like they were missing something. Still, it’s a whole lot of fun. Nice review Erik.

    1. I could have used a few more wham-bang moments, but it's such and improvement over the Stallone version that I was happy enough with what I got this time around. Thanks, Dan!

  2. I'm sick to death of origin story movies in comic book adaptations. Good God, do we really need another retelling of Superman's origin? He's one of the most recognizable figures on the planet. With Dredd, we get a short voice-over about the setting and a brief action sequence to give those unfamiliar with the setting a brief outline, and then we're off, with details being filled in over the course of the movie.