Dredd 3D – Review from a longtime Dredd fan

Dredd 3D – Review

Review by FilmFellaHenry – 7.9/10

As a counterpart to Filmfella Lozz’s recent post where he looked at Dredd 3D as a newcomer to the franchise, this review aims to examine the film from a 2000AD fan’s perspective.

Having grown up with Joe Dredd throughout the ’80’s, I’ve always thought that the anarchic world of Mega-City One would make an amazing backdrop for one of the myriad stories penned by Alan Grant and John Wagner. Hopes were raised then dashed with Sly Stallone’s abysmal 1995 schlock Judge Dredd; understandable then that my expectations for Dredd 3D were cynically low, with a prepared post-film rant ready to infect readers like a dose of Block Mania.

In truth, I really should’ve had more faith. For starters, the script was written by Alex Garland, notable for being a long time Dredd fan and having plenty of experience writing for Danny Boyle. Add the endorsement of original Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner in May, where he stated: “this is Dredd as it should be done – true to character, visceral, unrelentingly violent (but not off-puttingly so).” And then there is the much appreciated 18 certificate (or R-rated for those Stateside), which entices with the promise of blood, guts and a darker narrative lean.

The most prominent thing I noticed about Dredd 3D is a clear understanding by both Garland and director Pete Travis of the reasons why the previous film went so wrong. Ditching a budget-crushing overview of Mega-City One in favour of a smaller, contained narrative set within a huge rundown city Block make obvious sense. True, the narrative does fall into a basic survivalist shootout similar to that seen in The Raid; however as a simple, achievable starting point to a potential film franchise, you could do a lot worse.

Essentially, Dredd 3D is an origin story of our favourite Psi Division telepeth Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), only this time she’s a rookie out on assessment with Joe Dredd (Karl Urban). Investigating a triple homicide in the notorious Peach Trees Block, they soon realise that it’s home to one of Mega-City One’s most feared crime lords Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her labs producing the popular drug Slo-Mo. Fearing capture, Ma-Ma instigates a Block lockdown, trapping the Judges within 200 stories of hostile concrete hell. Facing overwhelming odds and hindered by captured gang member Kay (Wood Harris) Dreddy is nevertheless determined to restore order and bring justice to the denizens of Peach Trees.

Accepting the fact I was never going to see Futsies doing a Boing or Judge Death on a Dark Judge killspree, I actually found Dredd 3D tobe a generally satisfying adaptation. Karl Urban was a good choice for Dredd, what with his gritty voice, large build and Desperate Dan proportioned chin. Anderson also looks and acts the part, counter pointing Dredd’s imposing frame and emotionless stoicism with a waif’s figure and empathetic outlook. In this regard, Dredd 3D definitely harks back to the comics, where Anderson and Dredd’s relationship was a clashing yet respectful one, both characters striving for the same goal but using opposing methods. Similarly, Ma-Ma succeeds in achieving the same level of ruthless savagery that is essential for any decent Mega-City One head perp. And most importantly, Dredd utters his catchphrase moniker: ‘I am the Law.’

And speaking of savagery, Dredd 3D thankfully strives to capture the brutality of the Judge Dredd world, with skinnings, eye gougings, bodies peppered with bullets and a great moment when Dredd completely crushes an enemy’s windpipe. Sure, it doesn’t quite hit the blood drenched heights of Rambo (2008), but it’s significantly more violent than the majority of contemporary action films.

In terms of how things look, I have mixed feelings. To start with a negative, the presentation of Mega-City One itself (in the few scenes set outside of Peach Trees) is an underwhelming affair: a large bland grid of concrete housing with the odd gigantic Block rising from the familiar grey sprawl. I remember being fascinated by the outlandish architecture and unconventional environment presented in 2000AD: it felt fantastically different, a separate, almost alien world where you could do anything. I felt Dredd 3D did not do Mega-City One justice by a long shot, which is a real shame. Of course I can appreciate the lack of budget to re-create the immense megalopolis in all its original glory, however this could have been resolved by setting the whole film inside, with a few well constructed matte shots of the city to provide scale and creative freedom.

That quibble aside, I liked the interior set design of Peach Trees, as it managed to conjure something of the ’80’s cyberpunk style used throughout the comics, with a big emphasise on large scale to make the film feel bigger than it probably was. The overhaul given to the Judges equipment and apparel was also appropriate: Dredd still keeps his traditional helmet, but gone are the large gold pauldrons and chain, in favour of sleeker, more utilitarian combat suits. The Lawgiver sidearm thankfully ditches that ridiculous dial control, replacing it with a more believable digital display while showcasing all the traditional ammo types bar Ricochet rounds. And the drug Slo-Mo manages to provide periodic visual indulgences where, for the first time ever, I was actually glad to be watching Dredd 3D in RealD.

In summary, from a 2000AD fan’s point of view, Dredd 3D successfully executes a manageable story with flair, while generally keeping true to the source material. There is definite room for narrative improvement, which I hope to see in subsequent sequels, along with a better redesign of Mega-City One; though when I consider how badly they could have fucked this up, I have to conclude that Dredd 3D is an unassuming victory.

‘Say No to Slo-Mo’ – Hall of Justice anti-narcotic broadcast

About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

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