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Dredd 3D Review

by Joe Upton

Director: Pete Travis

Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris

Certificate: 18

Running time: 96 minutes

Synopsis: On a routine training exercise, Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson (Thirlby) stumble upon the source of the designer drug Slo-Mo, which has flooded the crime-ridden streets of Mega-City One. But crimelord Ma-ma (Headey) puts a bounty on their heads, forcing the Judges to engage in a brutal battle to bring down the Ma-ma clan and escape with building their lives…

When it comes to THN’s favourite comics, Marvel and DC can suck Dredd’s big shiny helmet – 2000 AD’s lawman of the future is easily top of our pile. Since DREDD was announced back in 2008 THN has tempered its excitement, remembering all-too-well Slur-vester Stallone’s abysmal 1995 take on the character, a film which destroyed the integrity of the source material and masses of potential for a fantastic franchise. Even Stallone labelled the project as ‘a real missed opportunity’. This time round, UK production company DNA Films (the folks behind 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE and NEVER LET ME GO) pledged things would be different, turning to longtime collaborator, esteemed writer, and 2000 AD fan Alex Garland to pen a script. For added clout Judge Dredd creator John Wagner was also brought on board to give the project his blessing – then DNA began professing that this time Dredd was to be dark, visceral, and most importantly, true to the character as he exists on the page.

DREDD is a gritty, tension-wrought actioner that packs a brutal and exhilarating punch. Whilst the plot could be viewed as too reductive, side-lining the wider world of 2000AD’s Mega-City One setting, it allows the audience to spend as much time as possible riding shotgun with Dredd, learning the ticks and traits of a character brilliantly realised. DREDD is not an origins story but instead re-introduces the character with ‘a day in the life’ narrative, which feels like a serialised Dredd story straight from the comic. The film’s narrative is directly comparable to the breathtaking THE RAID (out earlier this year) but feels a little more standardised as astounding martial arts have been replaced with gunplay. But what DREDD lacks in the way of choreographed hand-to-hand combat it makes up with sheer violence. Every scene explodes with blood, broken bones, and brain matter, with each shootout thrillingly definitive as the Judges mercilessly dispatch perps with lethal efficiency. The designer drug ‘Slo-Mo’ featured in the film lusciously accentuates the action, adding frenetic control as wildly dynamic scenes are played out in super-slow motion and turn into unadulterated glistening gore-porn.

DREDD promised us a honourable take on the character, and whilst fan boys may complain that the city doesn’t look as it should and is far too contemporary, Karl Urban does give a fantastic performance, capturing the character perfectly. His grimace, gravelly voice, and imposing physicality embody Dredd’s relished disdain for criminals. Whilst Dredd is necessarily stoic, Olivia Thirlby’s Anderson develops from rookie to Judge throughout the film. The exploration of Anderson’s psychic abilities offer some of the  coolest moments and are presented in a refreshingly simple fashion that gets ever more expansive, finally revealing the true power she wields – delving into the minds of criminals to expose a world of sex and violence which is hers to control. Though the rest of the cast is comprised of quality actors, the characters somehow feel half formed and cronie-like. Leena Headey’s Ma-ma seems too lackadaisical to ever feel threatening, and one wonders how this woman has ascended to the rank of criminal kingpin with only a devil-may-care attitude and a habit of biting off the odd tally-wacker (seriously!).

The movie has the tone of a 1980s classic, such as ROBOCOP, utilising violence to define the world in which the action is set. Garland’s script is full of little details that are easy to overlook, but Dredd’s wry humour and kick-ass attitude are spot on; we may just be seeing the birth of a great new anti-hero franchise. THN is sure the fanboys will be upset that the more fanciful stylistic sci-fi elements of the comic have been marginalised, but it’s a necessary trade off. The world of DREDD is a dirty, derelict dystopia, where the value of human life has been reduced to zero and, as such, the totalitarian law of the Judges is a believable necessity. Whilst the film’s low-budget ($45 million) dictates a lack of green screens and flying cars, it also makes the film feel far more tangible and true to life.

At its heart DREDD is a brilliant character study that presents a refreshingly grimy and questionable type of hero, and proves a credible alternative to the Marvel monopoly. Urban’s performance as Dredd is commanding and iconic, and will more than make up for any aesthetic quibbles the fanboys may have. Whilst the film doesn’t do everything right it’s still a must see for any fan. This is no holds barred action and gore –  an enticing watch that’ll leave you wanting to see more from the Dredd franchise.

DREDD is released 7th September

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dreddhead Sep 3, 2012 - 11:53 am

The plot seems wafer thin and a tad derivative (Die Hard meets Escape From New York?) but the characterization of Dredd and Anderson looks pitch perfect. The comedy and satire of John Wagner’s Judge Dredd work is missing – Alex Garland admitted comedy and satire are not his forte – but Dredd 3D looks like it’s captured the over-the-top violence of many 2000AD Judge Dredd stories.

The video game type plot may work to its advantage because it keeps everything simple and easy to understand, but long term Judge Dredd fans may have preferred a meatier, richer storyline.

jake Sep 3, 2012 - 2:49 pm

Karl Urban was superb in this. Trust me, he was awesome.

dreddhead Sep 3, 2012 - 3:13 pm

There’s a clip online which shows the block floor of Peach Trees. It looks huge:


Very faithful to the look of the blocks in 2000AD. 🙂 You get a sense these mega-blocks are vast.

The clip is on Youtube but with Spanish dubbing.


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