Review: Dredd 3D

dan cohen is the law…

Plot:The future has become a radiated wasteland, except for one city in the new world known as Mega-City One. Judges are the authority here, playing both cop and judge. When Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) investigate a crime in the slums, they are locked inside Ma-Ma’s (Lena Heady) base of operations where she threatens to release a new drug known as SLO-MO citywide, becoming the city’s biggest drug lord.

I never saw the original Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone back in 1995 because everyone told me to avoid it like the plague, so I have no basis for comparison. What I can tell you though is that this is a movie that should not be avoided. Dredd is a gritty, bad ass, harsh, and aesthetically pleasing crime film that is a mix between RoboCop and The Raid: Redemption released earlier this year. With many things to praise about this movie, we have to start with the man himself donning the helmet, Karl Urban.

This was very careful casting. Dredd’s dialogue is corny and cheesy, but it really has to be for the character to work. While you never see Urban’s face, it’s his delivery where the heart of the character lies. Much like Christian Bale sells his Batman voice, Urban is able to sell this dialogue. He has to say things like ‘I am the law’ and ‘Negotiation’s over…sentence is death.’ But Urban is able to make these lines sound threatening and chilling. It’s a great performance.

But he isn’t the only the actor stepping up his game. Olivia Thirlby plays the crucial role of rookie Judge Anderson, a very powerful psychic. Anderson is almost the true protagonist of the story as she’s the one with the character arc. Thirlby does a great job of transitioning her character from who she is at the start to how her day with Dredd changes her outlook on things. She also has a great conflict with Kay (Wood Harris), a criminal in custody who Dredd and Anderson drag along. There’s one truly awesome ‘psychic-off’ between the two that really shows how tough Anderson is.

The other major character is the villain Ma-Ma played chillingly by Lena Heady. There aren’t many scenes with her, but when she’s there, she makes an impact. You get just enough of a background to feel a little bit of sympathy for her, but she’s evil enough that you still despise her as a villain. Headey’s acting is really subtle, and there are two scenes of note that really highlight her performance. When she is notified there are Judges in her building, she taps into the PA system. And just before she speaks to all the inhabitants, she sits down on the floor and takes this deep breathe, like she’s preparing for a last stand. It’s a really well acted moment, and Dredd returns the favor later when he gets on the PA, so it’s a great juxtaposition between the two characters. She also delivers a very well written villain speech at the end. As much as I wanted to see more of her character, her screen time was just enough, wanting you to want more.

This works the same way with Dredd. You want to know more about this guy, but its best we leave it a mystery. It’s kind of like Wolverine in X-Men. He’s more of a bad ass if we don’t know the backstory. Out of the three major characters, we get an in depth look at who Anderson is, and that was the right character to focus on.

And while I’ve been talking a lot about the character development, don’t you worry…the action is top notch. What really stands out are the visuals, especially when we get the SLO-MO drug perspective. The first time is especially impressive as Ma-Ma sits in a bath tub as the water flies up. It’s a mesmerizing shot. But aside from the well filmed visuals, the action is great, but not what you’d expect. Don’t expect big high scale action sequences. Yes, there are some epic shootouts, but the action shines best when it’s more tension filled as we see plenty of great Dredd standoffs. There’s one moment in particular that involve a couple of kids that was really intense.

The one criticism I have for the action though is that the gore factor is a little too much and unnecessary. There’s blood flying everywhere like a Mortal Kombat uppercut, and the film just doesn’t need it. But it’s not so much that it’s distracting.

Speaking of criticisms, there’s a subplot involving other Judges in the second half that I just didn’t care for. It sort of takes over the film for a while, and this is where it dragged for me. The film runs a little over 90 minutes, and it almost seemed like the script was too short and they had to shoehorn in another story. There definitely could have been another sequence with Ma-Ma and her lackeys to fill this gap, but the Judges side plot was a real detour.

Aside from one wasted subplot, this is an intense and surprisingly character driven sci-fi crime ridden action flick that is just brutal. I want to see all these actors in more movies. Urban especially shines here, despite having to wear a helmet the whole time. I hope there’s a sequel, because there’s a lot left to explore with this character and this world.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.