Friday, September 21, 2012

Dredd 3D Review

There's something inherently enticing about the concept of Judge Dredd. The flagship character in UK Creator breeding ground 2000AD, Dredd is one of the originators of the idea that shoot first, don't even bother to ask questions later heroes could be at the forefront of the comic book world. A character that should never be empathized with, Dredd is the very essence of the last line of defence when humanity eventually swallows itself, with the judges ruling over Mega City One like facist dictators whilst its denizens live in, at best, squalor. In its commercial and creative zenith, 2000AD and Judge Dredd in particular resonated with a constantly scared of the future readership that lived in the shadow of high employment, war, and an economy on its last legs. (Nothing like nowadays then.) If there is one positive to take away from the current worrying situation we find ourselves in it is that quite often, the greatest creativity comes out of times of depression and crisis, and conveniently for the holders to the film rights of Judge Dredd, also a time when the stink of the Sylvester Stallone train wreck has finally been washed off. Now, more than any other time, is perfect for a Judge Dredd reboot and this Friday Dredd 3D will be released internationally. Because the UK is the bees knees, this reviewer has seen it. Is it any good? Find out after the jump.

Dredd 3D
Directed by Pete Travis
Written by Alex Garland 
Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Cersei Lannister and Avon Barksdale 
DNA Films 

(Possible spoilery stuff will be included in this review)

Mega City One is a city in chaos, full of crime and completely under policed. Judges are the last line between the people and pure anarchy, acting as judge, jury, and executioner in a world where even the lightest of crimes carry a large sentence. The best of these judges is Dredd, (Karl Urban,) a man who is pretty much in love with upholding the law. As the best of the judges, Dredd is tasked with taking a vastly under qualified rookie judge whose special talents are the only thing keeping her as a judge, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby,) on a days patrol. This brings them to what may or may not be a routine homicide within the Peach Trees apartment complex, one ruled with an iron fist by crime boss Ma-Ma, (Lena Headey,) and head first into a confrontation with the main distribution network of the new designer drug, slo-mo, a drug that does exactly what it sounds like. Cue action, violence, lots of running, and an attitude to bullets that can only mean they get them for cheap.

Being partly self funded gave the makers of Dredd a freedom that many modern films can ill afford and in doing so gave Dredd 3D the opportunity to become the R rated film it deserved to be, an opportunity that would never have been available under the purview of a major studio. And believe me when I say this film deserves to be R rated. Within the ninety five minute running time there is a complete symphony of violence on display with a body count that must have ranked in the hundreds, with all getting killed in increasingly inventive and gruesome ways. Pete Travis and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle deserve praise for making sure all the action on display never looks too rushed or complicated, even with all the violence on display. 

Celebrated British screenwriter Alex Garland delivers with a tight even paced script that both moves the narrative forward and gives the viewers the high points that a good action movie requires. Wisely using Anderson as the point of view character gives Garland the opportunity to make Dredd a characterization that isn't too different from the comics. Whilst it isn't steeped in 2000AD continuity, Garland picks and chooses what concepts work within the confines of a film and essentially takes the essence of what make Dredd, Anderson, and Mega City One tick rather than importing a previous 2000AD story onto celluloid. Having said that, there are more than a few nods to the gangs and other characters seen in the comic, keeping the purists happy. This all adds to the sense of the film just being another story in the continuing adventures of Judge Dredd and ultimately aids the suspension of disbelief that a movie like this so badly requires. 

Karl Urban is fantastic as the title character, particularly in his god given talent of having a chin that looks exactly like it was drawn by Carlos Ezquerra himself, although to be honest he doesn't have to exert his acting skills. Cold, emotionless and at times robotic, fans of the 2000AD comics will know that this is the perfect way to play Judge Dredd and it is a testament to Urban's ego, more than even Garland's characterization of Dredd, that it works so well. With Urban has the dishing out of justice in check, it is the other actors that have to carry the lions share of the actual acting and they all do so in a fun and convincing fashion. Olivia Thirlby is great as the wide eyed rookie Anderson and has enough likability about her to pull off being the films emotional centre without actually being a crutch to the story. Wood Harris is, as always, a treat to watch on the screen and is suitably creepy as Kay, Ma-Ma's main henchman, being able to tread the line between man with no choice in life and absolute remorseless scumbag easily and often. But the main star of the show is Lena Headey as crime boss and ruler of Peach Trees tower block Ma-Ma. Even in what is essentially a meat and potatoes action film, Headey shows her talents playing Ma-Ma with a drug addled stare, completely uncaring for human life and full of hate. 

Upon reading the plot, comparisons to Indonesian masterpiece The Raid: Redemption are hard to avoid but actually, apart from obviously the source material, the closest films that Dredd is similar to are the Animes of the late eighties and early nineties. Pete Travis utilizes a lot of slow tracking shots of both Mega City One and the Peach Trees tower block that are reminiscent of the ones that Mamoru Oshii uses in the classic Ghost in the Shell. The architecture and hardware in the film also use a mix of established Dredd aesthetics and a tech heavy anime sensibility. On top of this is the whole matter of 3D, which actually works incredibly well, much better than in the bigger budget comic book films seen earlier in the year and never resorts to cheap gimmickry seen in other 3D films. The only letdown within the whole aesthetic of the film is the Lawmaster motorbike that Dredd rides looks like it suffered from the smaller budget that the freedom and creativity provided, looking more like, as my friend rightly commented, a Sinclair C5.

Verdict - Watch It

Less a faithful complete adaptation and more an transplant of tried and tested action movie tropes into the Judge Dredd universe, Dredd 3D is nevertheless high octane, exciting, and well paced with a great cast to boot. Alex Garland script is refreshingly spare, lacking the unnecessary padding found in modern Hollywood scripts and Pete Travis, alongside the top notch cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle, deliver a lean and violent tale that tells a satisfying story whilst leaving room for (hopefully) a sequel. A callback to the great high concept action films of a bygone era, Dredd is, dare I say it, the one must watch comic book film of the year. 

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Anonymous said...

Avengers wasnt the one must watch comic book film of the year? Really? I guess that means Dredd will take us all to whatever is even greater than geek nirvana?

Taylor Pithers said...

Oh it's been a bumper year for comic book flicks. Avengers was fantastic, as was Batman. Dredd just pips them to the post

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