“Dredd” didn’t screen for D.C.-area critics. That typically means I’m not ever gonna waste my time watching the movie, but enough people raved about it so I figured I’d give it a shot — despite not having any great love for the comic book character or the 1995 Sylvester Stallone “Judge Dredd” movie that preceded it.
This was one of those rare times I’m glad I gave it a shot as this was a tremendously entertaining film that consistently pushes the limits of 3D creativity in a way to seem like the images are leaping straight from the comic book panels.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, “Red”) is part of a peacekeeping force that captures, prosecutes and as needed, executes lawbreakers in a spiraling, lawless society.
“Aliens” star Michael Biehn auditioned for the role and as an unabashed fan of his, I would have loved to have seen his Dredd, but Urban brings a sweet Clint Eastwood homage to the role that is perfectly fitting for the character.
Dredd’s paired with a rookie, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, “No Strings Attached”), who would have flamed out of the judge program were she not a mutant with limited telepathic abilities.
Dredd is tasked with giving her a one-day evaluation to determine if she has what it takes to be a judge and she gets a doozy of a training day.
The two travel to Peach Tree — a slum apartment — under the control of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, “Game of Thrones”), whose gang sells the designer drug Slo-Mo, which slows its user’s perspective.
Worried that her cash cow is about to get shut down, Ma-Ma locks Peach Tree down and sics its inhabitants on Dredd and Anderson.
Director Pete Travis, who showed a lot of promise in the otherwise underwhelming “Vantage Point,” understands the concept of what he’s working with and gloriously embraces it with dazzling, bright colors to counter the film’s gritty, violent tone.
The film isn’t for the squeamish, but Travis shows necessary restraint in not making this a gratuitous spectacle just because it’s rated R. Yeah, it’s violent, but understandably so and Travis has a flair for making what could have been standard action scenes fresh, which is only enhanced by the stellar 3D. Like “Tron: Legacy,” this is the kind of film you’re cheating yourself by watching it in standard 2D.
Alex Garland’s (“28 Days Later”) script is basic, but Dredd doesn’t need some overly complex story and the bare-bones plot is ideal for the source material. And Garland moves everything along in a sensible manner including explaining why Anderson doesn’t wear a helmet. It’s paying attention to those small details that allow you to easily buy into everything.
In the better comic book films, you’ll have that dynamic performance from either the hero or villain (i.e. Robert Downey Jr.’s “Iron Man,” Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight,” Hugh Jackman in “X-Men”) that raises the film to another level and drags the audience along with them through every scene.
Here, Urban and Headey smartly resist the urge to over-act, making Dredd and Ma-Ma’s confrontation all the more satisfying as it feels much more personal and real. And true to the rest of the film, it’s understated, but oh-so-effective.
“Dredd” was considered a big bust for Lionsgate as it managed a meager $13 million off a $50 million budget, but it’s definitely an under-appreciated gem. The only thing action and comic book fans will find dreadful is not seeing it sooner.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10