There are two ways you can look at the new Dredd movie; either as a brand new adaptation of the long-running comic book character or, like me, as a remake of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version. Either way suffice it to say that Dredd 3D is a much welcome re-telling, bringing a gritty, violent and purposeful sensibility to it and solidly succeeding at what it sets out to do.
Taking place in a future where only 800 million people are left, “living in the ruin of the old world,” we follow Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) of the title as he takes rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) on an assessment mission at one of the more crime-ridden tower blocks of Mega City One. Controlled by gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who also controls the distribution of a new addictive drug known as Slo-Mo, the two judges have to battle their way up the 200 levels of the tower which Ma-Ma has sealed off.
Hard-edged and not afraid to show the unleashed carnage in all its bloody, messy glory, Dredd 3D is exactly the kind of big-screen version the character deserves. Filled with more bullets and dead bodies than you could probably count – giving this summer’s The Expendables 2 a run for its money (that’s saying something!) – and reveling in having Dredd spout one-liners in his trademark gruff voice, this is dementedly and perversely fun stuff. Though the 3D is ultimately needless, it’s not as distracting as many others released in the format.
The main conceit of the movie, that is a dangerous gang leader in control of an entire building and our “heroes” having to battle their way up to stop them, may seem like a total rip-off of Indonesian action sensation The Raid. And it’s true the plots, at least on first appearance, are strikingly similar. However, since Dredd 3D was already in the development stages at the time of The Raid’s release it can hardly be blamed. Also, as similar as they are in pure concept the specifics set it apart, namely the Slo-Mo drug which makes the user’s brain perceive events at 1% their normal speed. The way director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) presents this effect is startling and oddly beautiful, from water particles slowly floating through the air to stylistic shots of people getting a bullet to the face. The film is unashamedly violent, yes, but finds a beauty in that with this startling visual effect.
Urban is an inspired casting choice to play Dredd himself, bringing the necessary mix of no-nonsense attitude, imposing demeanour and the ability to deliver a good one-liner in a way that makes us laugh with him rather than at him. Not so strong is Thirlby who is slightly miscast as very much the supporting Judge in this 200 floor take-down. A joy to watch, on the other hand, is Headey who is clearly having a ton of fun chewing up the scenery as the ruthless Ma-Ma, sat atop her tower of criminals and addiction calling the shots. But Urban, as the title suggests, is kept at the centre of attention throughout.
Some might say the film is a little bit repetitive in nature as it is, essentially, lots of bad guys getting shot and blown up floor-by-floor for 90-odd minutes. But just like the aforementioned The Raid there’s enough going on here and a general commitment to keeping it as balls-to-the-wall as possible that it gets away with it.
Written by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine), Dredd 3D is a tightly written action pic that doesn’t pull any punches and at a brisk 95 minutes it doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. Treating its decrepit futuristic world with welcome realism, allowing us to completely buy into it even as it throws special gadgets and a ludicrous drug concept at us, this is violently grown up sci-fi that doesn’t forget that it’s supposed to be fun.