Hey all, long time no see! I’m currently in Galway and have been having an amazing time on the Emerald Isle, but I’ve finally found some time to get a little “me time” and watch a movie over here. After reading reading an interview in Q magazine with screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) I decided to give Dredd 3D a try. Full disclaimer, I have no experience with either the previous film starring Sylvester Stallone or any of the original comic material, but I’d heard surprisingly positive things from fellow reviewers (Check one other early review out Here) and I’d always wanted to see a movie overseas before it came out in the States so I swallowed my pride, donned those hateful 3D glasses and let myself indulge in some cinematic comfort food. While the movie’s brisk pace is simultaneously it’s greatest strength and its biggest limiting factor, Dredd 3D soars as a gripping action flick while still providing characters that the audience can actually care about.
In the distant future, the world has been ravaged by war with only one remaining bastion of human civilization; Mega City One. Only problem is the humans in Mega City One aren’t exactly civilized, and in order to keep some semblance of “the Peace”, an over-matched law enforcement system represented by highly trained officers called Judges is set to the task of maintaining law and order wherever they can. Judge Dredd (Played here by Karl Urban’s Chin) has made a name for himself as something of a badass among his fellow Judges, so through some set of questionable logic the decision is made to give him the charge of evaluating a female new recruit, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Anderson is inexperienced and is fairly underwhelming as a candidate for the position she is pursuing, but she is set apart by a unique set of psychic abilities which the higher ups in the Hall of Justice believe might be useful. As luck would have it, her first assignment is to investigate three homicides in a futuristic super-structure known as the Peach Tree, an enormous skyscraper-like builidng home to over 75,000 people as well as hyperviolent gang leader Ma-Ma (short for Madeline Madrigal). Ma-Ma and her namesake clan are responsible for the manufacturing and distribution of a new drug called SLO-MO, which gives the user a hyper-slowed down sense of time and is rapidly making its way around Mega City One. As Dredd and Anderson commence with the investigation of the three homicides, they unknowingly take a member of Ma-Ma’s inner circle into custody. As you could guess, Ma-Ma isn’t too happy about this and, in a scene very reminiscent of the core premise of The Raid: Redemption, locks down the building and calls on the residents of the Peach Tree to bring her the heads of the two Judges. As you could also guess, Dredd and Anderson don’t intend to go down without a fight and the rest of the movie covers various aspects of their slow but steady progression to the climactic confrontation with Ma-Ma herself that awaits them on the 200th floor.
This department is honestly where the movie was the most pleasantly surprising to me. I expected action, gore, one-liners, and a heavy reliance on slow motion special effects scenes (which are gorgeous by the way, if maybe a bit graphic for more squeamish viewers), but what I didn’t expect was any sort of depth given to the characters behind the weapons being fired. Dredd perhaps has less of this depth than he could have, but his character’s taciturn perma-scowl felt more to me like a conscious choice by the writers than a developmental oversight. Sure, I would’ve liked to see a little more wit or wise-cracking in some of his lines, but Judge Dredd isn’t supposed to be Peter Parker or Iron Man. The seriousness and grittiness of his demeanor makes more sense with his comparative vulnerability when set aside other seemingly invincible action heroes.
I was, however, quite impressed with how the writers handled Anderson’s character. At first I was worried that she would occupy something of a damsel-in-distress role for Dredd to spend the whole movie saving, but instead I consistently felt like the writers stuck a perfect chord between her character’s strengths and weaknesses. Her inexperience in combat and hesitancy to carry out the the more grim sides of justice are balanced out by her unique psychic abilities and the confidence they instill in her. Olivia Thirlby deserves a lot of the credit for why I enjoyed the character so much, and I look forward to seeing more from the young actress who is currently most widely known as the immature best friend from Juno. In any case, if you do end up watching the movie keep an eye out for a great scene in which she is invading the mind of one of Ma-Ma’s inner circle, it’s a great glimpse into the anger that lies behind Anderson’s somewhat naive first impression.
As for Ma-Ma (Lena Headey of 300 and Game of Thrones) and her gang of low-rent thugs, I thought that Headey did a fine job of playing the same sort of tough-as-nails closeted psycho as she plays in Game of Thrones, but even with the imposing scar on her cheek and the suitably disturbing back story I felt like a little bit of her character’s bite was taken away by the fact that she rarely really perpetrates any of the real violence in the movie (with the obvious exception of the picture to my right that is). We also aren’t given much of a clue as to why her gang follows her. Apparently all you have to do to assume control of someone’s gang is to “feminize him with your teeth”, whodathunkit.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Superior
Bottom line, I was expecting modest things from this movie as I went into it and it exceeded my expectations on ever level. Dredd 3D might not be as much fun as some other similar action heroes and the apparently exclusive 3D format might prove annoying to people like me who despise the ticket gouging gimmick, but you will be hard pressed to find a more briskly paced and engaging action movie on this side of the summer season. Urban’s chin may not receive any acting awards, but that shouldn’t give you any pause from checking this movie out. I’m anxious to find out how the movie performs at the domestic box office as I would actually like to see a Dredd 2 in the not-so-distant future, but that remains to be seen.
As a quick note, at the time of this post Dredd 3D is at an outstanding 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with 30 major reviews counted thus far.