The comic series 2000 AD, which features the stoic, justice wielding Judge Dredd, has been around since the late 1970’s. The comic spawned the 1995 feature starring Sylvester Stallone, which was marred by unnecessary comic relief and a forced love interest. Dredd 3D simplifies the character of Dredd in the best ways, while focusing on making a well executed, action packed comic adaptation that will have you wondering where this Judge has been hiding.
Mega-City One is the future; it’s a vast, decaying city that finds humanity living in 200-floor community structures. Crime is rampant and run by gangs fighting to gain any footing in the communities. Drugs are commonplace, specifically the new street drug called Slo-mo that is being manufactured by crime queen Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).
With a stern, law above anything else mentality, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is a formidable force of power and influence. These characteristics make him a perfect choice to conduct a field assessment exam for recruit Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a young woman who doesn’t quit meet par on paper but has other valuable skills. Their first assignment has them investigating a triple homicide in one of Mega-City One’s most dangerous complexes, which just happens to be inhabited by Ma-Ma’s entire gang.
Character is a big part of this film's success. Urban’s role as Dredd doesn’t require much, but he makes the most of every scene. His tough demeanor, rigid posture, and near monotone delivery is structured throughout. This allows Urban to remain threatening yet permits moments of comic brevity, a nice touch. Lena Headey is also good as Ma-Ma in the same reserved way as Dredd; her serenely sadistic delivery allows for some nice verbal abuse. Olivia Thirlby shoulders the weight of the drama, and unfortunately it’s met with mixed results. At times her portrayal is used nicely to accompany Dredd’s deadpan style, but other times, specifically during moments of action, it’s forced and unnatural.
The narrative isn’t great, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s understood that Dredd 3D is first an action film, and it doesn’t disappoint on that end. Ultimately what will hurt the story is the fact that it’s too similar to The Raid, one of the best action films I’ve seen in a long time. However, there are some really ingenious aspects that the film implements too, most notably the use of slow motion actions scenes that are graphic, vicious, and undeniably cool. The composition of the grim and grey outside world reflects the turmoil inside the apartment complex. This environment seems like a limitation of space in an action film, but it actually takes on a life of its own and becomes an interesting atmosphere for conflict.
The fact that Dredd doesn’t take his helmet off once proves that the filmmakers wanted to remain authentic to the source material and create a film that fans of the iconic Judge would love. To that extent Dredd 3D has exceeded expectation and it’s also a fun film that’s easy to get lost in too.