After the critical failure that was the 1995 Sylvester Stallone-led adaptation, director Pete Travis and writer Alex Garland have taken it upon themselves to bring us a true to the source, hard as nails adaptation in eye popping 3D. They have succeeded and then some with Dredd 3D. The film gets off to an amazing start that is quite kinetic and slathered in gratuitous violence. I must admit, I wasnt ready for the amount of violence and the stellar use of the 3D that is employed in the film; the violence is more gruesome, water is more beautiful, and death is much longer. It is refreshing to see 3D being used effectively in order to enhance the look and overall experience of the film, not just becoming an up-sell gimmick. The plot is quite straight forward and is thoroughly entertaining. Although the plot progresses at a relatively slow pace for an action film and felt somewhat predictable, I was engrossed by the stylized look and feel of this dystopian world that the filmmakers provided the audience a glimpse of. From the moment Karl Urban dons the helmet he establishes that in Mega City 1, with a population of 800 million, 17,000 crimes occur each day and that the role of Judges is to patrol the city acting as Judge, Jury and Executioner, effectively dealing justice in a matter of minutes. As soon as he steps onto the the streets you know youre in for something special.
After successfully chasing down and sentencing a band of criminals, Judge Dredd is given the duty of training and evaluating a rookie judged named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). As the assessment begins, a heinous crime of horrible violence directs the two judges to a 200 story slum that is controlled by ex-prostitute turned clan-leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Upon discerning that the crime is drug-related, the duo proceeds to deal some extreme justice on a group of Slo-mo dealers and captures a member of the clans inner-circle. Not wanting any potentially damaging information to leak, Ma-Ma decides to lock down the entire building until the two judges are killed. From that point on the body count increases exponentially, the action is in your face, and the 3D is the stunning bow on an already beautiful package.
This films comic book roots have provided rich material for the filmmakers to develop and flesh out, Travis and Garland have chosen to lay-on the violence thick and emphasize the realities of this seemingly blighted world. Urban, much like Tom Hardy (Lawless) did in The Dark Knight Rises, manages to effectively depict a wide range of emotions through his only visible facial attribute. His anger, sarcasm, and menace are all on display in the lower half of his face. The man knows what he is doing under that helmet, which does not come off once throughout the films 95 minute run time. Not for any explosions, gun fire, not once. This is a welcomed choice as it is one of the many complaints fans had with Stallones characterization of Dredd, he spent more than half the movie without his helmet. Not once has he removed his helmet in the comics.
I hope the studio sees the potential of this franchise given this excellent first entry which successfully provides a foundation for more compelling stories set in the Dredd universe. The films cinematography, writing, acting, and visual storytelling all work. Dredd 3D has earned its place next to the select group of recent amazing comic book adaptations and dwarfs the lack luster first attempt in terms of substance over cheap thrills and bad comic relief. I personally cant wait for Urban to don the helmet he has rightfully earned once more and deal some more justice on the streets of Mega City 1.