October 8, 2012 by Paul Curtin
After debuting at Comic-Con back in July to unanimous fan approval and creating a ton of buzz in the process, everything seemed to be heading towards a perfect box office opening when the futuristic dystopian Dredd reboot finally hit theaters in September. Fan approval for remakes is hard to come across these days (see all the recent backlash for Total Recall and Robocop), but with 1995’s Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider being anything but a classic that was panned by critics and fans alike for its goofy take on the original comic’s source material, the Dredd series was prime for a second chance with the current trend of darker and more serious takes on comic book superheroes.
Like my recent viewing of the original Judge Dredd seventeen years late, this review is also a little late, and sadly Dredd 3D is almost already out of theaters after a very short run of only a few weeks. Theatergoers seem to be sleeping on the Judge’s comeback, and I feel as if it’s a crime to not speak up in defense of Dredd and help spread the word on how great of a film this is in order to give it the credit it deserves for delivering a modern day Robocop that’s far more serious and violent and will probably end up being better than the upcoming Robocop reboot itself.
The plot of Dredd is quite simple and very similar to recent Indonesian breakout hit The Raid, which received tons of praise and in turn box office success for its gritty and violent fight scenes. Similar to The Raid‘s modern-day SWAT team members making their way up an apartment building in the slums filled with ruthless gangsters in an effort to take out the crime lord that resides at the top, Dredd can best be described as a futuristic Raid with far less in terms of martial arts, but equal, if not even more, action with far more polish and better cinematography and acting.
Fans will be happy with how close the story sticks to the original comic with Judge Dredd creator John Wagner acting as a consultant on the film. But even if you’re unfamiliar with the comic series or comic books in general, Dredd stands by itself as a bad-ass action movie that simply kicks ass. The movie gives a chaotic second introduction to the Dredd character for anyone still unfamiliar with the franchise as all hell breaks out on a typical day on the job as a Judge (a futuristic police officer with the ability to play judge, jury, and executioner) in Mega-City One, a vast metropolis in North America containing 800 million residents who have gathered after the fallout from atomic wars where over 17,000 crimes are reported every single day.
As you can gather from those stats, Mega-City One is not a nice place to live in, and right from the start you can tell that you’re going to be in for one hell of a ride as the pulse-pounding electronic rock score sets the stage for what’s to come, reminiscent of Blade Runner, Mass Effect, and Deus Ex. And while Dredd starts off giving a look at the massive futuristic Mega-City, the majority of the film deals with Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie psychic Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) fighting their way up the claustrophobic 200-story Peach Trees tower after being locked in the slums during a routine drug bust.
Instead of running scared, Dredd is keen on dispensing justice onto those who disobey the law and takes the fight to drug lord Madeline Madriga, or “Ma-Ma,” an ex-prostitute who now runs the slums from the penthouse floor due to her control over a popular new drug known as “Slo-Mo,” which makes the brain feel like time is passing at 1% of its normal speed — making for some of the most beautiful slow-motion transition sequences of any movie, ever.
Director Pete Travis’ use of 3D and Phantom Flex highspeed cameras that instantly transitions scenes between normal shots and sequences at 1000 frames per second is where the film shines brightest (literally) and will have you in awe of how beautiful everything looks, especially when bullets are flying through people’s faces and ripping through flesh during shootouts where the film easily earns its R rating. Unlike many films, the use of slow-motion isn’t just a cheap gimmick and instead plays a bigger role by giving viewers a first-person view of being on the drug itself and seeing life from a different trippy, yet astonishing, perspective. My only complaint would be that the slow-motion sequences at the start of the film are so good that it leaves you wanting more, and the later scenes just aren’t as impressive.
Acting by each character is also superb, and there’s not a single cast member who doesn’t pull their own weight. Urban’s portrayal of Dredd, who wears the helmet throughout the entire film, is spot-on, and the deadpan humor from the writing is perfect as to add a little bit of humor in all the right places and never too much to where it starts to get cheesy and border on getting out of hand like the original. Olivia Thirlby’s transformation throughout the film almost steals the show and plays perfectly to Dredd’s lack of emotion in order to keep viewers invested in the struggle of both characters. Bad guys and girls Wood Harris (The Wire) and Lena Headey (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, 300) also nail their roles as ruthless killers fighting against Dredd and Anderson on the other side of the law.
The biggest travesty with Dredd 3D is the lack of faith people had in the film, which equated to one of the biggest box office bombs in years. Dredd is everything fans of classic late ’80s and early ’90s action films have been begging for recently with a style that brings ultraviolent adult subject matter back to the superhero genre. Screenwriter Alex Garland has said in interviews that if the film were to gross an excess of $50 million that it would allow for potential sequels with this being more of an introduction to Dredd and so much more in terms of a bigger story being able to be told in future installments.
Sadly, due to Dredd‘s poor performance at the box office, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon, and we may never get a sequel. Hopefully, people will give Dredd a chance when it comes out on DVD, and it will become a cult classic for this generation because it’s the dark hard-R superhero film we need right now, but apparently not the one we deserve. Dredd 3D gets 4.5 out of 5 stars (Amazing).