I recall seeing Stallone's Judge Dredd in the theater back in the day. I remember liking the action but not much else. Now when I watch it I don’t like much of anything, which is why I was a little apprehensive about this reboot. My thought process was, “If that movie featured all this character has to offer, this new version can’t be much better”.
I was wrong. Dredd 3D takes all that was bad about the 90s version and throws it out in favor of a surprisingly action packed character study.
In the distant future there will be a massive holocaust and the remaining survivors barricade themselves in “mega-cities” which house millions upon millions in spaces as large as New York City. Crime is a huge issue, so Judges, police that are also judge, jury and executioner rolled up into one, constantly patrol to dole out justice. One Judge, Dredd (Karl Urban), is assigned to take on a rookie with psychic abilities named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) for evaluation. Together they investigate a triple homicide at an apartment complex run by the crime lord Mama (Lena Headey), which is also the main manufacturing site for a new drug known as Slo-Mo, which makes the user experience time at 1% of normal. When Mama locks down the complex with the Judges inside they must find a way to survive long enough to bring down Mama’s drug empire and escape with their lives.
The first thing you’ll notice about this film is its oppressive atmosphere. You can feel the anxiety of the citizens and the tight leash the Judges keep them on from the opening chase scene until the final frame. The shocking amount of violence adds to the brutal mood.
Oh yes, the violence. The exquisitely shot and framed violence. It’s as disgusting as it is oddly beautiful. Watching druggies get shot in the face in super slow motion and seeing their cheeks get torn apart by gunfire and blood splashing across the screen in 3D is as harrowing as it is awesome. The gorehounds get a little of everything: skinned bodies, blown up heads, broken bones and mucho bullet carnage.
The acting is pretty decent for this type of high end B-movie. Karl Urban really didn’t have to do anything since he has a massive helmet covering most of his face during the entire run time, but he injects a lot into the character with his body language and vocal inflections, as well as a little dry humor. Indie queen Olivia Thirlby ("Juno") is cute as a button, but don’t let that fool you. Her character has a great arc and she pulls off every little nuance with aplomb, and even gets to kick a little ass now and then. Lena Headey, fresh off her amazingly evil portrayal of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, plays a different type of villain here as hooker-turned-kingpin Mama. While both characters are all about obtaining power, here she is so bloodthirsty and twisted she is willing to kill those closest to her to achieve her goals, no matter the position it leaves her in. And she can chew the scenery like an old pro as well.
I have always enjoyed the writings of Alex Garland. His novel The Beach is one of my favorite books, and he continues to impress with his tight script here. Director Pete Travis really is coming into his own after his (IMO) disastrous job helming Vantage Point a few years back. His inventive visual style and knack for making his characters come alive is what elevates this film from its trashy comic book roots to something special. The highly industrial/dubstep score by Paul Leonard-Morgan also works wonders to bring the action to a whole other level. Anthony Dod Mantle’s dark lighting and clever cinematography is sweet as well, but nothing tops his amazing slow motion shots, especially in 3D. They are breathtaking.
I do have to say that there are a few problems that plague this movie. The mid-section drags in the extreme, some of the events seem overly convenient and some of them come off as completely contradictory. For instance, Mama shuts down the entire building once she learns that there are two Judges on her property, and seals off all entrances. There’s no way in or out, which is explained to the audience on multiple occasions. Then how is it that people seem to be coming and going as they please? The finale is also a bit lackluster since the epic showdown the film has been building toward never really happens.
No film is perfect, I understand that. I am willing to overlook these issues because the film as a whole is supremely entertaining and exciting for the most part. I’ve never read the comic books this is based on, but I might have to now that I’ve seen what fans are calling “the most accurate adaptation of this character”. I hope they continue with this potential franchise, although I doubt that will happen after seeing how fast it disappeared from theaters. Even if this is the only film we get I’m happy with what we were given.