Movie Review: Dredd 3D
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 23:09
“Dredd 3D” is a film of contradictions: it’s a movie with American actors and British writers based on a British comic set in America. While based on a comic book, it’s hardly an average comic-book movie. There’s no origin story, no secret identity (“Dredd” is in fact the protagonist’s last name) and certainly no romantic subplots. In fact, when Dredd (Karl Urban) arrives at an apartment block to investigate a triple homicide, within 15 minutes he has already killed more than 10 times that number and eventually racks up a body count more befitting a typical movie villain.
“Dredd” takes a day-in-the-life approach that emphasizes the daily violence and near-anarchy of the film’s setting, the post-nuclear megalopolis of Mega-City One. While not based on any existing comic storyline, the story stays faithful to the spirit of its source material without pandering to die-hard fans at the expense of the plot. It’s quite a different experience from either a standard Hollywood shoot-em-up or from a typical comic-book movie, and is worth watching for that reason alone.
One of the major things that sets “Dredd” apart from both basic action movies and comic-book adaptations is the importance of its setting. While Dredd himself, aside from his not-infrequent instances of deadpan humor, might as well be a slab of concrete with a gun, the environment of Mega-City One is a vibrant, dynamic backdrop that is arguably the single most important defining characteristic of the movie.
The plot revolves around a drug called Slo-Mo, which slows down the user’s perception of time, and is used to add sudden, dramatic moments of 3D-enhanced color and beauty. Violence and gore are frequent and uncompromising, with bullets shredding flesh and releasing torrents of blood on a regular basis, but the carnage only shows directly what most other movies shy away from, rather than reveling in unnecessary or gratuitous scenes for shock value. However, there are scenes such as heads exploding, bodies being thrown out of windows and shattering on concrete and bullets tearing through flesh under the influence of Slo-Mo, that are all as brutal and uncompromising as the film’s main character.
While Dredd is a pop culture icon on the level of Batman in the United Kingdom, the character is more remembered in the U.S. for the 1995 film adaptation “Judge Dredd,” featuring Sylvester Stallone in the titular role. The great tragedy of the Judge Dredd comics is that its very British sense of humor and political views are often misinterpreted or go over the heads of American viewers. In the case of “Judge Dredd,” the filmmakers seemed to be the ones in the dark, misjudge the ironic humor of the source material and create a goofy, almost light-hearted adaptation that was universally ridiculed.
“Dredd,” on the other hand, invokes a dark, gritty atmosphere, reminiscent of movies like “300,” though with an admirably small amount of CGI for a blockbuster action movie. It eschews the wisecracking sidekick character that accompanied Stallone in favor of the fan favorite Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic Judge whose abilities allow her a level of empathy that puts her in strong contrast to the stoic Dredd. The character development in the movie lies entirely on the rounded shoulder pads of Anderson, who is depicted as a rookie on her first assignment shadowing Dredd when things escalate far more than either of them could have anticipated. Her transition from nervous newbie to roundhouse-kicking heroine is gradual yet inevitable. As Dredd’s implacable nature and penchant for violence begin to rub off on her, she retains a measure of humanity that grounds the movie and reminds the viewer that the victims are more than mindless targets and that the absolutism of law is not necessarily ideal.
The final word on “Dredd” can be seen by contrasting its reviews in its home country in the U.K., where it was released to critical acclaim and praise, to reviews from some American publications complaining about the plot and lack of character development like a team of snowboarders complaining about the cold. Go into it expecting something other than your average Hollywood blockbuster, and let the vibrant setting, engaging action, understated acting, clever writing and excellent pacing speak for itself, though the slightly trite ending is somewhat unworthy of an otherwise masterful and distinctive film.