“Dredd 3D” is a far cry from the campy, schlock-a-minute 1995 Sylvester Stallone film. Director Pete Travis (“Vantage Point”) provides a dark, gory and incredibly violent crime fighting film that is the antithesis to the flood of fluffy comic book movies of late (“Dark Knight Rises” excluded). “Dredd 3D” is more aligned with the original vision of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s UK comic creation and translates frightfully well in this R-rated, big screen adaptation.
“Dredd 3D” is set in the distant future in Mega City, a wasteland completely overrun by crime. Policing the city are the Judges, law enforcers with the power of jury and executioner. However, only one Judge appears to adhere to the law and he goes by the name Dredd.
Beneath the helmet and body armor is Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, channeling Clint Eastwood’s stoicism. Like Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, Urban’s Dredd is stone-cold, short on negotiation and fast with his gun. He’s not just a brutish killing machine but an intelligent cop, unwavering in his command of the law. When he’s not leveling floors of the Peachtrees Tower with his endless arsenal, he’s outsmarting his assassins.
In a battle of Dredds, Urban would lay waste to Stallone.
Accompanying Dredd is rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thurlby), who chose one very bad day for a first assignment. Anderson is a product of the wasteland, a well-formed and adapted mutant with psychic abilities. The two respond to a routine murder call in the Peachtrees, a two-hundred story city-within-a-tower, and become trapped as the insane drug kingpin Ma-Ma (Lena Heady) activates the building’s anti-war security feature, sealing off and isolating the entire tower from the outside world. Now with the upper hand, Ma-Ma demands every inhabitant within the tower to track and kill the Judges. With a high-priority prisoner (“The Wire’s” Wood Harris) in custody, Dredd and Anderson must shoot their way to freedom. What ensues is a hyper-violent, completely bad-ass chase film, a gritty love child of “Robocop” and “Die Hard.”
Unlike most movies about a dystopian future, “Dredd” doesn’t offer any type of moral. All we are shown is that the future is a violent, undomesticated trash heap. Before providing any metaphor as to why or how our country ended up a chaotic, violent wasteland, we are propelled with a rush of adrenaline as Dredd and Anderson shoot to kill their way through two hundred stories of hell.
Heady as Ma-Ma is unpredictable, sadistic and frightening. Disfigured and insane, Ma-Ma is the embodiment of the chaos rampant in Mega City. Wily and very smart, Ma-Ma is not just a good movie villain, but a scary movie monster. She should join the ranks of Gary Oldman in “The Professional” and Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”.
The film’s lower budget actually raises the overall quality. Instead of overly relying on special effects, spaceships and cloud monsters, Dredd sticks to a realistic murky urban design. Travis gives a sense of claustrophobia inside the imploding tower, lodging an uneasy lump right in the gut.
“Dredd” makes wonderful use of stylized super slow motion during scenes regarding an illegal drug-of-choice called SloMo. The device is effective, especially in 3D, because it actually serves a purpose in the film. When one of the characters inhales the drug, the brain drastically slows down… as we get to see every bit of it, especially when victims are forcibly drugged then chucked over a balcony for a very long, long journey down. Scary, different and very effective.
Though “Dredd” is a straight shoot-em-up from start to finish, it’s one of the most unique shoot-em-ups in recent memory. The production design and the sheer ferocity of the action, combined with an intense, streamlined story are strong attributes to its singularity.