In an industry dominated by a glut of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and spiritual successors, the rehash of Judge Dredd seemed like a very bad idea on paper. Add in the 3D and the lopsided grin first look of the film and it seemed like a disaster in the making. Surprisingly, Dredd 3D defies all kinds of expectations to blast through its 90 minutes and even makes us long for a sequel.
Dredd works so well mostly because it is written by Alex Garland, who is slowly approaching the geekdom levels of Joss Whedon - he wrote the cult hit novel The Beach (which was bastardized by Hollywood) and also the movies Sunshine, 28 days later and Never let me go. Garland and director Pete Travis bring back the gritty violence and the deadpan humor found in the Judge Dredd comics, a far cry from the horribly cartoonish 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie.
We’re introduced to a sort-of-post-apocalyptic-dystopian-futuristic New York City where tens of thousands of crimes occur every single day. To keep things under control are Judges – Robocop style law enforcement officers with cool motorbikes and handheld guns. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is handed the task of evaluating a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) and he takes her to a high rise building crime scene where a couple of guys were skinned alive and tossed from an unknown floor balcony. The routine investigation turns into a nightmare as the building locks down and a drug lord sends out a horde of gangsters to shoot down the two cops. Dredd is left to blast his way through the various floors, with only his trusty voice-commanded handgun at his disposal.
The premise sounds a bit like The Raid Redemption but know that Garland began work on the movie much before that film was made. Comparisons to the Indonesian film are inevitable and it’s easy to dismiss Dredd for its lack of Silat martial arts, however there are enough bullets and droolworthy slow-mo gunplay to compensate. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s expressionist super slow-mo 3D camera gives an effect that can best be described as a splash of ice cold soda on your face. All the coolness is contrasted by the mega hot (in a slightly disgusting way) Lena Heady as Mama the psychotic drug lord who makes you forget about Thirlby’s clichéd, irritating video game side character.
Naturally the best thing about Dredd 3D is its constrained single location, and it makes the film a hell of a lot more exciting than most of the big CGI overloaded Michael Bay cringefests. Karl Urban never takes off his helmet but is still more expressive than 99 percent of the actors out there – it helps that he hurls one liners with the clanging deadpan style of Munnabhai Sanjay Dutt. A lot of the humor in Dredd seems self-referential, in one scene a goon talks about cops in the city being like meat grinders, which may or may not allude to the way reboots are made nowadays to pave a ways for a franchise. If a sequel is indeed made, I’ll be the first in line to watch it.
(First published in MiD Day)