3D is the scourge of modern cinema. It is bemoaned by critics and patrons as an unnecessary money spinning exercise in futility as the film industry tries to battle its way back to the forefront against the ever expanding possibilities of home television. Dredd’s release solely in the 3D format seemed ominous; the Megacity One Judge looked set to be another to suffer from the intrusive obstinacy of the major studios. But hold the phone, Dredd’s 3D may have become a rare moment where 3D is forgiven. Though it adds very little to the film it certainly doesn’t detract from it. To say the 3D adds depth is a rather inane comment, to say that it adds to the expansiveness of the film is disingenuous, Pete Travis and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle take a bow. Megacity One becomes the futuristic goliath of landscapes that it always promised to be and it is not down to 3D, it seems that Pete Travis and co. have managed to get Judge Dredd spot on, 17 years later, it’s been worth the wait.
After being introduced to the beautifully dystopian city where distances and scale take on a whole new meaning, the society dwelling in Megacity One is brought to the fore. Based somewhat on a dilapidated Fascist regime, the government tries to keep the citizens in check but crime and drug abuse is widespread. The increase in supply of new drug fad Slo-Mo, which reduces the user’s perception of time to 1% of normal, is of most concern the battle hardened police force of Judges is on the front line.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is one of the most feared and rightly so. He is an immense man who dispatches criminals with robotic precision. He is no-nonsense and a firm believer in the law of the Hall of Justice. Dredd and rookie psychic Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) are called to investigate a triple homicide at Peach Trees tower. Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her gang have executed these men and are initially unfazed by the appearance of the Judges. This all changes when Dredd and Anderson capture one of Ma-Ma’s head henchmen, Kay (Wood Harris), and she orders a shutdown of the building until the Judges are disposed off fearing they learn about her production of Slo-Mo during interrogation. The two must find a way to end the onslaught of attackers and escape the concrete death trap.
The pair of Judges have a dynamic relationship. Anderson is the nervous rookie to Dredd’s highly experienced veteran with little time for naive mistakes. Though both could be considered stereotypes of the genre, they actually make for engrossing viewing. Karl Urban’s chin is official the best chin ever. The actor agreed not to remove his helmet as the script called for more loyalty to the original comic, meaning the actor was rather restricted. Urban flourishes despite his metallic constraint, growling superb one-liners and letting everyone know that he is the law. Thirlby proves the ace in the hole. Initially a vehicle for Dredd’s snappy quips, she quickly becomes something more. She is the human element to Dredd’s robotic precision. Her conscience and empathy for the civilians caught in the crossfire of Ma-Ma’s onslaught leave the veteran questioning her ability to deal with the violent dispensing of the law. As they work their way up the tour block a mutual respect begins to grow as Dredd realises Anderson is tougher than he first thought.
Travis embellishes Dredd’s aesthetic in scenes in which characters are getting high on Ma-Ma’s designer drug ‘Slo-Mo’. As gangsters inhale the drug, the scene slows down and light shines through every space, leaving the surroundings a glimmering heaven. Akin to Zach Snyder’s 300 in some respects but is used sparingly to leave it more impactful than Snyder’s heavy handed approach. The effect is to leave the viewer feeling as though they have taken the drug themselves, a unique and awesome experience.
The jury have retired and delivered their verdict, Judge Dredd is reborn. For the lowly incarnation spawned by Sylvester Stallone the sentence is death. The ultimate law enforcer has risen phoenix-like out of its predecessor’s ashes. Urban and Thirlby are excellent and make for a far more magnetic pairing than Stallone and Diane Lane. The real change comes in the form of a director who has a clear vision of what the original comic strip encompasses and a writer who is familiar with the source material. Travis and writer Alex Garland combine to make Dredd one of the most exciting films of the year without the usual amount of inanity. Garland knows how to write action, those who say he is stealing the fundamental idea from Gareth Evans’ The Raid are mistaken as Dredd was being written before Evans’ film was released. Garland also knows subtext; the allusions to a controlled state with vast inequalities are rife. Suffice it to say that for those who have forgotten who the law is the film will clear that right up. Dredd is the law.