For the most part the summer movie season ended when The Expendables 2 came out about a month ago. Since then there hasn’t been a lot to be too excited about, especially for all of us fanboys and fangirls. Thankfully, Lionsgate slotted the release of their highly anticipated(?) Judge Dredd remake to come out right now and hold us over until films like Skyfall and The Hobbit come out in a couple of months.
Dredd 3D follows a day in the life of the incredibly grim and badass Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), one of many Judges in the sprawling mess of Mega City 1. The Judges function as upgraded cops with added powers. Not only do they have some pretty versatile weaponry, but they’re also allowed to pass judgment on perpetrators on the spot. In other words, if someone is guilty of something like murder, a Judge can dispense capital punishment right there at the scene of the crime.
The film begins with an exciting action sequence showcasing Dredd’s abilities and no nonsense work ethic. Soon after Dredd is assigned a rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who he will be evaluating in the field for the rest of the day. Their first assignment together sends them to one of the imposing residential towers in the city to investigate a routine triple homicide. This triple homicide however turns the rookie’s first day on the job into a life or death struggle with Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her gang as it threatens Ma-Ma’s booming drug business.
The film is startlingly similar to The Raid: Redemption, an Indonesian action film from earlier this year. In that movie a SWAT team is sent to a tenement building also ruled over by a crime lord who makes drugs. They are locked in the building just like the Judges and are forced to go up and fight the residents until they find the baddie at the top and take him out. Dredd 3D hits a lot of the same beats as The Raid, including the drug lord’s speech to the residents, having the heroes hide out in someone’s apartment, and a fight scene toward the end that’s staged in the drug lab. I can’t say that there was any stealing of ideas on either side but it is a bit odd. Despite this both movies are executed brilliantly and can be enjoyed separately. If you haven’t seen The Raid yet I highly recommend you do, like ASAP.
But let’s stick to the topic at hand, Dredd 3D, which is awesome and would not be as good as it is without three great performances from the leads.
Despite having half his face covered for the entire film (something the last movie got wrong because in the comics Dredd never takes off his helmet), Urban is brilliant. From the moment he comes on screen it’s clear that he belongs in this role. He’s intimidating, intense, and darkly funny. He’s like a grim boyscout, working from the book and getting the job done, no matter the situation.
Thirlby gives a wonderfully understated and subtle performance as the rookie Anderson. She provides a strong female lead that kicks a lot of ass while also giving us a way into the world of the film. She starts out nervous and mousy, relying on rhetoric to answer Dredd’s quiz-like questions and to assess situations. As the story progresses she convincingly matures, making you believe it when Dredd finally tells her, “You look ready.”
Game of Thrones’ Len Headey is also great as Ma-Ma. She plays her with a careless disdain and a sense of utter authority making it believable for her to be ruling over an entire mega tenement building.
The visual effects are also very well done. The film sports a seamless integration of real world city (much of the outdoor elements of the film were shot in South Africa) and CGI buildings. The sequences that show characters taking slow-mo, the drug Ma-Ma’s gang manufactures, are also stunning. They’re used a couple of times to slow down action scenes in an awesome way, making the violence almost beautiful, which is weird because it’s violence.
I heard a lot of good things about this film after it was shown all the way back in July at Comic Con. I’m happy to say that it is as good as everyone is saying it is. Karl Urban and company definitely came to play on this one. Here’s hoping it makes enough money to get some sequels. 4 out of 5 stars.