I fought the law – Dredd 3D review

Dredd 3D – Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey. Directed by Pete Travis. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

There are only so many comic book characters to go around, but goshdarnit, Hollywood is going to have a good old-fashioned college try giving every last one their own movie. Even in the age of Antman and Rocket Raccoon, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think director Pete Travis drew the short straw when charged with delivering a 21st century take on the cult crime-hating curmudgeon Judge Dredd. Why, then, were there reports of a behind the scenes battle for creative control on this modestly budgeted (and arguably cynical) enterprise? There is a storied tradition of many creative chefs ruining the cinematic swill, yet there is no evidence of a tumultuous production here; only a focused, furious passion. Pete Travis’ and writer Alex Garland’s Dredd 3D is a phenomenally entertaining, horrendously bloody, and surprisingly tight adventure. Never too ambitious in its storytelling, but consistently impressive in execution, Dredd is an outlier in the vast wasteland of Hollywood’s overproduction-line. It’s a sausage so delicious that it makes you forget entirely all of the gag-inducing ingredients.

You might think that Dredd is being graded on a bell curve because it follows in the footsteps of 1995’s much-maligned Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone and Armand Assante. Well, wrong. I haven’t even seen that Danny Cannon disasterpiece, although its reputation precedes it. As I am also unacquainted with John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s supposedly excellent 2000 AD comic strip, news of a reboot was hardly tantalising to me. They might as well have announced a gritty reimagining of From Justin to Kelly, which, now that I write it, actually sounds kind of compelling. Suggestions that Travis had been booted out of the editing room and more than a year of release delays did not bode well either. I don’t mean to fixate on unsubstantiated rumours; merely to reiterate that expectations were low going in and absolutely exceeded coming out.

Karl Urban takes over from Sly as Judge Dredd, a staid, unflinching bike cop with the ability to arrest, try, and even put criminals to death on the spot. Such swift justice is required in future dystopia Mega-City One, where millions of the world’s residents have called home since the crumbling of society as we know it. Dredd is paired up with a pretty young thing named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic orphan whose powers might be well used in speeding up the judgement process. On her first day, they investigate a gangland killing (and skinning), only to find themselves locked in a 200-storey apartment building presided over by vicious drug-dealer Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). With her underling Kay (Wood Harris) held hostage, Dredd and Anderson must contend with hundreds of assailants eager to please their maternal leader by killing the lawmen. No question: the duo will have to judge their way out.

So, the plot bears a striking similarity to Gareth EvansThe Raid. That’s not a cry of plagiarism; merely a curious notation that two of the best action flicks of 2012 should concern apartment block showdowns. The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises both concluded with central characters flying away with a nuclear device, and we enjoyed both of those just fine. Dredd and The Raid can happily co-exist. And even if The Raid had the more impressive hand-to-hand battles, Dredd can boast a series of visually inventive shoot-outs courtesy of Oscar winning DOP Anthony Dod Mantle, culminating in the most artful head-explosion this side of Scanners.

Though Thirlby provides the film with its heart (and an emotional arc), Urban commands respect and attention with his low-key, masked performance. Comparisons with Peter Weller‘s turn as RoboCop are apt, just as the picture itself has plenty of Verhoevian elements (much more so than that Total Recall remake). Should credit for the picture’s visual sumptuousness, sustained intensity, and ingenious, self-contained plot go to Travis or Garland? That question is mostly irrelevant. Whether everyone involved pulled together or pulled apart, they produced a remarkably entertaining and inventively violent comic book flick.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Dredd 3D arrives in Australian cinemas October 25, 2012.

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