It’d be easy to say that this new film adaptation of the 2000 AD comic character Judge Dredd is better than the first one. Safe to say the Stallone version was too slick, too watered down, just generally too Hollywood for this character. But for the second time this year, I’m surprised to find a film that is not only better than expected, but pretty damn entertaining, if even in just a superficial way.
Dredd 3D‘s premise is efficiently focused; Judge Dredd and his newly appointed rookie trainee, Judge Anderson, are dispatched to a massive high rise slum tower to investigate three homicides. When they get there, they find a drug lord, Ma-Ma, is running the place and decides to lock them in the building and puts a price on their heads. Dredd and Anderson now have to fight their way out – or to Ma-Ma herself (Lena Headey) – and stay alive in the process.
In this post apocalyptic dystopia, most of the world is an irradiated desert, while the remainder of humanity has concetrated into massive Mega cities. Here, in Mega City One, stretching from Boston down past New York City, law enforcement officers are known as Judges, and they are pretty much judge, jury and often on-the-spot executioner. Law and justice is their way of life, and Judge Dredd is well known. I always forget that this is a character conceived by an American writer, because it was published in the UK comic 2000 AD for so many years.
Movies like this come with certain expectations. And this one had to fight pretty hard. First of all, it’s technically a reboot of a comic book character. Then it has to outshine it’s predecessor. Not that it’s too much a task to do that, as the previous Judge Dredd was downright silly despite Stallone’s attempt at taking it seriously. But when your director, Danny Cannon has other ideas, like casting Rob Schneider as a comic relief sidekick, well, it’s already doomed before it starts. So, as far as being better than that one, well, piece of cake. But it also has to find a way to please die hard fans, and maybe make some new ones. As far as I can tell, it shouldn’t be a problem.
In this reboot, the style is gritty, not glossy. It’s a pretty hard R rating for violence. Yeah, it’s bloody. It’s overall a much more faithful adaptation of the Judge Dredd character and the world they create. Writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, upcoming Logan’s Run remake) does a good job staying closer that material, despite paring the plot down to a more focused idea. It is not a sprawling epic showing lots of what the world is like in this future. The story is mostly concentrated in this massive building that two Judges must fight their way through. But that’s to the benefit of the film. You get the whole back story in about a minute. Then you get put right into the story. You get about 90 minutes, no sense in wasting any precious time.
Now, if that plot sounds familiar, don’t fret. This huge, 200 story tower, named Peach Trees, is where the majority of the film takes place, and some people may find the connection between this plot and the movie The Raid: Redemption. But it’s worth noting that as it turns out, this script for Dredd 3D was written long before The Raid, so hopefully that will ease any thoughts of plot theft. The CG is used sparingly in this. The majority is used to show us the vast expanse of Mega City One, with it’s urban sprawl and said massive slum towers housing 50,000 plus residents. The rest is used in some of the really cool moments of slow motion gunfire. They really did show us stuff I haven’t ever seen before. Bonus points!
Other than lacking any of the ironic Brit humor, this fairly grim film has plenty of solid action and faithfulness to its’ source material. Karl Urban plays Dredd well, speaking in brief, gravelly voiced sentences and in fact, never removes his helmet. THAT is a testement to him as an actor, and the director Pete Travis (Vantage Point), preferring to stay true to the character rather than anyone’s ego. In this future, justice has no face. But it does have a lot of really cool scenes of stuff getting shot up. And amazingly, they seem to understand how to make the best of the 3D technology. There are some scenes of long hallways and some basic stuff, but the scenes of people on this drug, called “slo-mo”, are downright beautiful in their color and visual violence.
Olivia Thirlby plays Judge Anderson, her slight naivete’ a good counterpoint to Dredd’s grizzled experience, though she can still hold her own in a shootout. Her character’s psychic abilities also offer one or two cool scenes of 3D use. The only downside is perhaps Lena Headey as drug crime lord Ma-Ma. She doesn’t get much in the way of back story- just enough to know what she came from. But she is ruthless enough, and for the film’s purposes, she does all she needs to despite what seems like a waste of actress talent.
Dredd 3D keeps it tight and focused, and lets us see some of the subtleties of judge Dredd’s ingenuity in facing various kinds of obstacles, rather than just being a completely two dimensional walking gun. It doens’t dig too deep, but what it offers is a lot of action fun.
This is most certainly one of my other surprise joys this year so far. Is it for everyone? Surely not. But I think it is faithful enough to the source material for the die hard fans, and contemporary enough for new ones.
Dredd 3D is at least a solid 3 and a half kittenhands and maybe a little more. I could see a new franchise built off of this as long as they stay as faithful as this does.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, knows that Judge Dredd is the Law.