A Totally Biased Review: Dredd 3-D

Dredd 3-D is a badass old-school action flick that goes against modern conventions and rocks because of it

It’s not every day these days I’m writing a movie review, but, as usual, you can count on me doing a movie review for a comic book movie. The  biggest difference? This comic book movie puts character ahead of everything. Ahead of explosions, which there are plenty of, ahead of thrills, which are abound in droves, and ahead of  action, which this film has in spades. This is, first and foremost, a character study for quite a complex man. A man named, simply, Dredd.

Dredd is a Judge. In the future, vast spans of America are irradiated wastelands. In a massive city sprawling from Boston to Washington D.C., called simply Mega City One, the Judges are given the law-enforcing powers of police, Judge, Jury and, most importantly, executioner. Criminals are apprehended, Judged and, sometimes, executed on the spot, in the middle of the street or on the sidewalk. The brutality of this future America is felt right from the get-go, and it gives the film a gritty, violent undertone from the very first scene, which continues relentlessly throughout almost the entire film. Dredd is a veteran Judge. How long exactly he’s served is never even touched upon. In fact, there is next-to-no back-story given to Dredd, and the very little that is implied about his past and reputation turns him into an intimidating and powerful absolute.

Speaking of making him an absolute, he is the quintessential lawman: totally and utterly unyielding in his application of the law, absolutely unscrupulous in dealing out death in droves. So successful is he in his charge, that he’s made to take out a Rookie “Judge” named Anderson. She’s barely failed her Judge’s exam. Yes, you read that right. Failed. Why is she a rookie then? Because she’s one of the most powerful psychics the Judges have come across. So Dredd is charged with assessing whether or not Anderson can cut it out on the streets. Cue the rest of the movie…

Dredd and Anderson make a rather routine stop to the site of a triple homicide. As things tend to, though, they escalate and end up being anything but routine and… Well, I won’t spoil anything  you wouldn’t already know. As it turns out, the premise for the movie is introduced within the first few scenes, which is remarkably effective for the film. In fact, it’s one of many things that sets it apart from other comic book films released so far this year, but we’ll get to that later. The Peach Trees super-building Dredd and Anderson make their stop to is home to an indiscriminately violent prostitute turned gang-leader named, simply enough, Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma is distributing a drug called Slo-Mo that, surprisingly, causes the user to experience time at 1%  its normal rate. Simple name for a simple drug. No surprises.

There’s a trend here, right? Simple. It keeps the film straightforward and effective. Anyways, as I said, things escalate and Ma-Ma locks down the building, trapping the two Judges inside. And there you have it. Basically the entire premise of the movie. Again, simple. It really works here. Whereas most other comic book films trade in simplicity for convoluted plots or pomp and circumstance, this film moves along at a brisk pace like a super-charged episode of “Cops.” There’s nothing secret going on in this entire film. What you see, is what you get. And although I think that will deter some people, it will work wonders for everyone else, me included. The intensity and simplicity of the plot gives the film a singular focus and determined drive that fans of the comic will almost certainly appreciate.

He is the law.

Something else that fans will appreciate is the authenticity the production crew have instilled into the flick. True to the comics, Dredd never removes his helmet, and Karl Urban’s cowling grimace is absolutely spot-on. In fact, his convincing performance as Dredd is, naturally, one of the film’s strongest points. He makes the Judge complex and compelling, and after the 90 or so minutes of his absolute resolution and unyielding loyalty to the extreme law he deals out to baddies at every turn, that his grimace turns to even the slightest grin seems like a monumental character arc. Dredd is not a conventional action hero in any sense of the word, and the sour, terrible taste left in our mouths by the Stallone bombing, Judge Dredd, has been completely washed away. Gone are all of the smug quips and pompous puns. The Judge is not a man with a sense of humor, and that he rarely, if ever, jokes while dispensing justice makes him fit into the gritty reality of the film very, very comfortably. His work does not warrant a conceited joke, rather a churned stomach and uneasy nerves. There’s nothing to complicate or convolute the plot. No budding love-interests. Barely any supporting actors. It truly allows Urban and Thirlby to shine as the stars of the film, Urban especially. He simply is Dredd, personified and brought to life.

It also wouldn’t be fair to discuss Dredd in such depth without speaking about the supporting cast, the vast majority of which is very competent and holds their own even while Dredd is onscreen. Olivia Thirlby, in particular, plays Judge Anderson pretty straight: she’s new to the gig, being out on her first assignment with Dredd, and as such, is not at all accustomed to the atrocities that their daily routine entails. She handles them poorly, at first, but as you would expect, by the end of their outing, she’s already grown quite a thick skin and her character development wraps up nicely. From a screenplay standpoint, Anderson is the perfect foil for Dredd’s unflinching brutality, giving the audience someone who they can identify with, who’s much more humanized than Dredd ever could be, or should be. Ma-Ma, the villain, is exceptionally loathsome. With a disfigured, scarred face and teeth blackened from drug use, she’s unsettling to the eyes, and her brutal, chaotic demeanor gives any scene she appears in air of tension. She’s given a little back-story that helps detail her violent nature, and beyond those sparse details, the horrific implications that are made as to what occurred for her to rise to the top of such a vicious gang, are… well… quite horrific. Indeed, even the people who work for her are terrified of her wrath and go to great lengths to avoid her retribution.

Mega City One. Home to 800 million.

The scenes in which people use Slo-Mo benefit from some spectacular camera-work. I’m assuming the film-makers used something along the lines of the Phantom camera to film the ultra-slow-motion sequences because there’s a lot of detail and silky smooth motion in these shots. Quite honestly, though, despite the films’ title being Dredd 3-D, I would truthfully suggest seeing it without the 3-D. It’s a dark film as it is, and darkening the film more to help enhance the 3-D made it just a little too dark for me to totally enjoy the visuals. What is there to see, though, looks great and convincing, with nothing in the way of special effects looking fake or even remotely cheesy, with the massive, endless city-scape of Mega City One being particularly awe-inspiring, the towering monolithic mega-skyscrapers dwarfing even the tallest of the old-world skyscrapers. The Peach Trees plaza? Over 1km tall. They’re that big. Though an action film at heart, the movie never gets dragged down by trying to outdo other summer films with expansive, all-encompassing CGI or explosions or loud, bombastic sequences. Everything in the film is present to move the story forward, with logic and sensibility.

An old-school type action flick that just plain rocks

Truly, this logical sensibility the film adheres to gives it quite a lift and makes it into much more than it may otherwise have been. It hearkens back to the days when action flicks weren’t huge, pompous, overtly crowded and full of hot air. The kind of films that made Arnie famous or the Dirty Harry films, in particular. In fact, those are probably the most apt comparison. Films where the hero is a gritty, no-nonsense hard-ass. Where they’ve been on the beat for years and years and have taken less and less shit as time’s gone on. Where a badass was a badass and didn’t need all sorts of complicated, nuanced and emotional motivation. Where they could be troubled without ever truly showing it. Karl Urban’s Dredd is all of these things. He is a straight badass. There’s very little that gets in the way of it. And ya know what? This movie just plain rocks because of it.

2 Responses to “A Totally Biased Review: Dredd 3-D”
  1. Vivian Yattaw says:

    Maybe we’ll go see it. What’s it rated? Not at all what I expected, what with the remake of Total Recall I assumed it was just a remake of Judge Dredd with Stallone. Do you need to know about the comic book to enjoy it? You made it sound good enough to give it a try.

    • Justin Yattaw says:

      It’s rated-R and fully deserving of that rating. It’s quite violent and gruesome, but not to the point I felt it was too much. It’s not really violent just for the sake of gore, because they show just enough of it to depict how brutal the setting is.

      As far as needing to know about the comic book, no. I know next-to-nothing about the comic book myself but I thoroughly enjoyed it. All I know about the comic book is he never, EVER takes off his helmet, which is one of the reasons the original was such a travesty.

      If you like gritty, hard-edge action films, like Dirty Harry or the early Arnie flicks, then this movie’s right up your alley. And there’s no cheese!

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