Thinking back on Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone, I remember getting a pretty good kick out of the film. No one can pull off the kind of dramatic campiness that Stallone can and since I don’t know a thing about the comic book on which it is based, Stallone’s film is my only baseline for Dredd 3D, starring Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby. Like its predecessor, Dredd 3D has an extremely limited story. In fact, screenwriter Alex Garland’s basic plotline for Dredd could fit on a postage stamp – drug overlord, who rules violently over a neighborhood, goes to battle with the hardcore law and blood pours. Regardless, because Garland manages to give us full, rich characters, director Pete Travis offers end on end, incredible and visually stunning action sequences and the cast offers perfect characterizations, we get a tight film riddled with excitement, thrills, action and bullets.
Based in the future, the majority of Dredd 3D’s action takes place inside a futuristic high rise neighborhood community called Peach Trees, ruled over by an angry ex-whore, Ma Ma (Lena Heady), who uses extreme violence to keep her henchmen and the community at bay. Outside Peach Trees life is hardly better, but the law, whose officers play police, judge and jury, attempts to keep control in desperate times. After Ma Ma makes an example of three men, by tossing their skinned bodies out a window (the torturous death made worse by the drug, which seemingly slows the passage of time), Dredd (Urban) and rookie Anderson (Thirlby) go in to bring her down.
For Anderson, who is also a physic, it is a test of her mettle, and for Dredd, who doesn’t care for Anderson, it is the job and his duty to rid the city (and in this case Peach Trees) of crime. Thrilby and Urban, who I met in a round table interview, play well together, like mentor and mentee or older brother and sister. Garland takes pride in creating two characters who don’t have to have a romantic connection, but one that is indeed vital and interesting. Except for random citizens and a ridiculous number of henchmen, Dredd 3Ds cast is small, but even smaller (almost claustrophobic in feel) is the set in which they do battle.
The dark dingy halls, dim cramped elevators and other small spaces of the locked –down Peach Trees tower make bullet play and battle scenes all the more intense and bloody. And astonishing, in-your-face imagery assaults the audience like Dredd does his criminals. Incredible weaponry, phenomenal slow motion scenes (when Ma Ma’s impressive drug is ingested), and tense pursuits keep the pace exhilarating and extreme. Urban, with nothing more than the tip of his nose and his mouth exposed manages to offer a perfect futuristic enforcer, intensely serious and equally compassionate. Thirbly, too, fills Anderson’s shoes with ease. On the darker, sinister side Heady gives all other creepy comic book villains a run for their money. And I loved it!
Rightly rated R for an obscene amount of violence and blood-letting, Dredd 3D is quite simply a crowd pleaser! I, luckily, saw it at the plus Violet Crown theatre, but recommend it wholeheartedly on any big screen. It is ostentatiously bloody and insanely violent, but with this cast and crew it works. I am placing an A- in my grade book. We could do with a bit more meat (not literally) – I mean in the story.