The future America is an irradiated waste land. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One - a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called ''Judges'' who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge - a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of ''Slo-Mo'' experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed. During a routine day on the job, Dredd is assigned to train and evaluate Cassandra Anderson, a rookie with powerful psychic abilities thanks to a genetic mutation. A heinous crime calls them to a neighborhood where fellow Judges rarely dare to venture - a 200 storey vertical slum controlled by prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma and her ruthless clan. When they capture one of the clan's inner circle, Ma-Ma overtakes the compound's control center and wages a dirty, vicious war against the Judges that proves she will stop at nothing to protect her empire. With the body count climbing and no way out, Dredd and Anderson must confront the odds and engage in the relentless battle for their survival.
/ South Africa
Directed by: Pete Travis
. Starring: Karl Urban
, Rachel Wood
, Andile Mngadi
, Porteus Xandau
, Jason Cope
, Emma Breschi
, Olivia Thirlby
, Rakie Ayola
, Lena Headey
, Tamer Burjaq
, Warrick Grier
, Wood Harris
, Shoki Mokgapa
. Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan
It's surprising that for an iconic comic book legend like Judge Dredd, a tent-pole character in the equally iconic 2000AD comic - which itself has been around since the 1970s - there's been just one movie adaptation: a 1995 vehicle starring Sylvester Stallone, where he famously removed the sacred helmet of the character (a strict no-no in the comic) and spent most of the movie's running time as a fleeing fugitive rather than as a 'Judge' out in Mega City One dispensing brutal justice. It was a flop at the time, not in the least bit helped by someone as famous and larger than life as Stallone playing an equally famous and larger than life character like Judge Dredd.
The good news is that Dredd 3D is a massive improvement over the Stallone version. Firstly, Karl Urban makes for a more effective and menacing Dredd. Secondly, the helmet stays ON for the movie's entire running time -' a rarity in today's world of celebrity egos that an actor would actually agree to that. The story is way better too: Dredd and a rookie Judge called 'Anderson' are called to a tower block where three people have been skinned alive and thrown to their deaths. Unbeknownst to Dredd and Anderson, this block is run by a major crime lord - 'Ma-ma'(seriously) -' who's manufacturing a drug called 'Slo-Mo' there -' a narcotic that slows down time for the user. After Dredd and Anderson arrest one of her perps, Ma-ma opts to shut down the entire building rather than letting Dredd and Anderson leave with her stooge, effectively making them prisoners in the block and forcing them to shoot/fight/blow their way out of this hell hole.
Although this is meant to be a review of Dredd 3D, it's almost impossible to resist comparing it to the Stallone movie. As mentioned above, Karl Urban is great as the eponymous Dredd and puts in a better interpretation of the character than the Stallone iteration. Witness the delivery of Dredd's iconic and immortal line: whereas in the 1995 release Stallone shouted: "I am... (pause) The Law!"; in this version, Urban growls it more effectively: "I am the Law!". Also, in the comics, Dredd sometimes almost came across as being a futuristic Dirty Harry -' a fact lost in the 1995 movie, but corrected in this version: here we see Dredd throw people to their deaths/execute/head butt/punch his way out of danger. In essence, it's everything you would expect from the classic comic icon and a lot of that is thanks to Urban's steely portrayal.
It may be dark and murky, but it's still a very stylish (and stylized) movie. The effects of the Slo-Mo drug are stylistically rendered, with everything happening at a fraction of the speed of reality. As a comic book adaptation, it even resembles a comic book with its parade of contorted faces, arms and torsos being shot and/or shredded in extreme slow motion and usually in close up. So much so, you could almost imagine it as a panel on a comic page with the accompanying 'Thud!' or 'Ka-pow!' captions.
As Anderson the rookie, Olivia Thirlby puts in a good, not too showy performance. Anderson is a mutant possessing psychic powers and there are some effective and imaginative scenes where she utilizes them to full effect. There's also a very poignant moment where the full gravity of being a Judge hits her for the first time, as her psychic powers hammer home a sad realization to her based on her performing the compulsory duties of a judge. It's details like this that make this movie several notches above other comic book movies like it.
It also even seems to have been informed by the Christopher Nolan take on Batman/The Dark Knight: everything is gritty and grounded in realism, and Urban's growling delivery of the dialog is not exactly dissimilar to Christian Bale's own take on delivering dialog when in Batman mode. Both also share a similar ruthlessness when trying to 'obtain' a confession/ information from a suspect.
There are a few small minuses: the Judge Dredd of the comic was a proud, dedicated lawman, who was committed to his job with military efficiency; therefore it doesn't really make sense that he would show up for duty in a dusty uniform and a beaten, scratched helmet. Similarly, while they may have got the design of the aforementioned helmet right, they've taken some large detours from the original design of the uniform: gone is the eagle from the right shoulder; instead, it's been worked in as a kind of padding. Worse, the iconic bike -' the 'Lawmaster' -' looks cheap and none too powerful. This was one of the few elements the 1995 version almost got right. And if you really want to nitpick, in one scene, Urban says, "Sh*t!" Everyone knows that in that particular scene, he should have actually said "Stomm!" or "Drokk!" - Dredd's trademark swear words.
Even the plot bears an absolutely uncanny resemblance to that of another of this year's releases: The Raid. Just substitute gunfights for the balletic martial arts on display in that film, and you've almost got the same movie. Hell, even the look and the music score are similar. The makers of Dredd must have had sunken spirits when they saw it. As Dredd was made first, the jury's out on exactly what -' if anything -' is going on, but this has to be the most unbelievable case of psychic plagiarism ever seen. Which is a shame, because if The Raid hadn't existed, this would have been brilliant rather than just great. But don't let that put you off. Dredd is still a super and very noisy comic book movie that will keep you gripped to the very end. If this is the beginning of a trilogy/series, then it's off to a good start.
Review by Tom Gooderson-A'Court (firstname.lastname@example.org) from United Kingdom from the Internet Movie Database.