Fantastic Fest 2012: 'Dredd 3D' Packs a Very Hard, Very Cool Punch
by Jeremy Kirk
September 21, 2012
Dredd 3D succeeds in simplicity where the 1995 Sylvester Stallone action flick, Judge Dredd, failed in ambition. The comics clearly have a rich mythology, but when it comes to futuristic law enforcers taking out bad guys in a post-apocalyptic city, what more is needed than kickass, hard-hitting action? Dredd delivers in abundance. There isn't much depth here, but any ideas that should go further than the surface are quickly forgotten under hails of bullets, furies of hand-to-hand strikes, and awesome blasts of violence that make Punisher: War Zone comparisons more than flattering. Dredd kicks ass, and that's all it needs to do.
Actor Karl Urban and the gigantic helmet should share credit as Dredd, a Judge in the future environment of Mega City One. Stretching from Boston to Washington DC, the city is home to 800 million people packing themselves in to keep away from the wasteland that has taken over most of the country. The Judges are the law, acting as all forms of the judicial branch and carrying out swift justice, usually in the form of extremely fast bullets flying at the criminals' heads. When a new drug called Slo-Mo — it slows the users perception of time to 1% normal speed — hits the streets, Dredd and his new partner Anderson, a rookie with telepathic abilities played by Olivia Thirlby, are called to investigate. The duo finds itself trapped inside a skyscraper of an apartment complex with hundreds of baddies seeking their blood and a sadistic crime lord, played by Lena Headey, calling the shots from the penthouse. Things get explosive in a hurry.
Director Peter Travis and writer/producer Alex Garland have clear intentions with what they want to do with this story and even the story they wanted to tell with the Judge Dredd character specifically. The film opens establishing Mega City One complete with Dredd narration explaining the world. You know, in case you didn't see the Stallone movie and haven't read the comics, but the setup is ancillary. We see Dredd preparing for a mission, suiting up in Judge's armor and that massive helmet, and from there the helmet never comes off. All we know or need to know about the film's protagonist is made clear in an opening chase sequence that gets the fierce ball rolling.
The action in Dredd isn't particularly fast, but there's definitely an R-rated fury to all of it. Multiple head shots, people being crushed, blown up, skinned, and generally beat about until they're little more than bloody pulps is just some of the buffet of carnage Travis and Garland pick from, and that's just in the first 10 minutes. There's very little in the way of down-time between action set pieces and even less in the form of development of the movie's hero. Dredd serves as a reintroduction to a character few may know, and the rebriefing found here has little to do with the character more than his devotion to the law and his ability to serve out justice without a second thought. It plays more like a one-off episode of a "Judge Dredd" TV show, a day-long mission where the only progression of the series comes in the Dredd/Anderson partnership.
The dynamics between most of the characters are standard, action fare. Dredd and Anderson obviously have the strongest bond here, but even that comes off like an instructor preparing a newbie for the worst and hoping she either passes or fails with her life still intact. The action, on the other hand, finds inventive ways of presenting itself, each bullet-laden scene playing out a bit differently from the previous one. The Slo-Mo drug is an aspect that lends for very creative, often very beautiful slow motion shots. It's rare that slow motion has a reason for being in action movies, usually acting as gimmick instead of creating interesting points of view, but Dredd handles the technique with skill both in terms of concept and execution.
There isn't much room between barrages of violence for the actors here to show their talents. The lower half of Urban's face sits on angry grimace for the bulk of the film, his eyes completely useless behind the opaque visor. Let's just say Tom Hardy had more to work with with Bane. Thirlby acts and reacts as expected, but her skills come about when she keeps the telepathic moments from spilling into laughable territory. The real stand-out in this department is in Headey's antagonist. She does a fine job creating intimidation while holding back on what could easily have been a scenery-chewing cartoon. She's never more developed than the one note of a crime lord, but even with that, Headey scowls, screams, and scathes with a subdued anger.
The rest of the film is less subdued, running up its body count with each, passing celebration of explosion and violence that packs a mean wallop. Aided by a truly badass score by Paul Leonard-Morgan, Dredd is the kind of movie that has the audience's collective fist pumping in the air, filling a hole for junkies who want more than run-of-the-mill offerings with stagnant action. It's thin, extremely thin, and the lack of character or rich story is what ultimately keeps it from being a great film. However, the hits keep on hitting hard with Dredd, a cool, quick bump of an action film that will get your heart going on numerous occasions. The film knows what it needs to do, and just like its main character, there's no rest until its job is done.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 8.5 out of 10