Dredd 3D review

Banana Rating: 4 out of 5

I lament what seems to be the passing of the 18 rated block­buster movie. Back in the nine­teen eighties and the nine­teen nineties, rental video seemed awash with uncom­prom­ising sex and viol­ence. It helped sell low-budget B-movies. Invari­ably, ten or twenty minutes after press­ing “play” on the video recorder, the hor­ror film that prom­ised so much, delivered so little. It was just viol­ence. And whilst that’s okay for a while, the thrill of watch­ing such things soon fades if the story isn’t up to much.

But luck­ily, an uncom­prom­ising vis­ion to see an entry and exit wound for every bul­let was pre­val­ent in big­ger budget movies. The plots, for some, might not have improved over their low-budget sta­blem­ates. But at least you could rely on a dir­ector with a keen eye for the excit­ing action scene. And with a cha­ris­matic star at the centre, dis­pens­ing justice, one neck snap at a time, with quips pol­ished until they gleamed, it proved hard to wipe the grin from your face as the cred­its rolled.

Over time, the bloody, viol­ent block­buster has fallen vic­tim to the bot­tom line. A lower rat­ing gets more people in the cinema. But the cost is an untruth­ful, blood­less film that might not linger for long in the memory (see The Hun­ger Games for an example of this).

Thank Drokk (as they say in Mega-City One) for Dredd 3D then. It’s second time round for the Brit­ish comic hero. You may remem­ber him from the 1995 Sylvester Stal­lone ver­sion where, against tra­di­tion, he did the unthink­able and removed his hel­met early in the film, and then never put it back on. Stal­lone also mangled Dredd’s catch­phrase, “I am the law!”. When those words were spat from his lop-sided mouth, he bizar­rely turned into a French­man. “I yam de luurrr!” didn’t have the same ring to it. But it’s okay, he had a new catch­phrase: “I knew you’d say that!” Hilarious!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, full-time crime against cinema, Rob Schneider, was an entirely unne­ces­sary com­edy sidekick. But not everything was rub­bish. Diane Lane made for a good Judge Her­shey. Mega-City One didn’t look too shabby, and a brief appear­ance by the Angel Gang enter­tained. Mean Machine Angel was par­tic­u­larly well realised.

It just never felt like a Judge Dredd movie. Stal­lone the megastar eclipsed Dredd the comic icon. It might as well have been called Judge Stallone.

So what of Karl Urban? Urban’s one of those guys who’s not a massive star, but you know his face. He’s turned up in all sorts. You know he’s going knock out an hon­est, depend­able per­form­ance. And whilst that might not sound like the most inspir­ing descrip­tion of an actor, it means he’s not going to let his own real life char­ac­ter get in the way of the char­ac­ter he’s play­ing. Dredd is lar­ger than life, and Karl Urban seems to under­stand this.

Dredd, on the sur­face, is one-dimensional. He’s a cop whose word is law, whose life is law. You’re either guilty or not guilty. It would be easy for an actor to play him this way. Instead, Urban plays him rel­at­ively straight, never going over the top, and man­aging to cap­ture Dredd’s dry wit. Dredd the comic char­ac­ter was influ­enced by Dirty Harry, so Urban brings a touch of Clint East­woodto the role, and it works per­fectly. He’s cer­tainly a vast improve­ment over Stal­lone. Near the end, dur­ing a brief exchange with a super­ior, you see a side to Dredd where he seems to step slightly out­side of the rules, sug­gest­ing he’s will­ing to bend if he thinks it’s the smart decision.

The story itself is a simple one. Judge Dredd and a rookie, Judge Ander­son, have been called to a dis­turb­ance at the Peach Trees Block. In the comic, blocks are basic­ally huge sky­scrapers with vast pop­u­la­tions. In some cases, an inhab­it­ant of a block need never leave it. Dredd and Ander­son end up trapped by the block’s defences, at the mercy of female gang lord known as Ma-Ma, and her army of bad guys. It turns out that Ma-Ma is the head of a drug deal­ing oper­a­tion which pro­duces Slo-Mo, a drug which reduces the users per­cep­tion of time to 1% of its nor­mal speed.

I thought the Slo-Mo drug was a clever way to work around what has become some­thing of a cliche in big Hol­ly­wood movies, the slow motion tricks favoured by the likes of Paul WS Ander­son, among oth­ers. The Slo-Mo drug makes for some incred­ibly styl­ish viol­ence, espe­cially when seen in what is the best use of 3D for some time. Blood sprays in glisten­ing arcs from bul­let wounded cheeks. Win­dow panes smash into a thou­sand glit­ter­ing shards. And even bath time is an event, when Ma-Ma lifts her hand from the bath water to admire the crys­tal droplets, spray­ing eleg­antly from her fingertips.

All of these slo-mo events are infused with a sear­ing col­our palette of oranges, yel­lows and reds. It looks spec­tac­u­lar, and stays just the right side of gratuitous.

Else­where, the film has a grimy look to it. The gen­eral tone is markedly dif­fer­ent to what I was expect­ing hav­ing read a fair num­ber of the com­ics. Ref­er­ences to the whack­ier stuff of Mega-City One are there in the back­ground, if you look hard enough. But this is a more real­istic vis­ion. Some pur­ists might argue that it strays too far from the cheese fever night­mare of Dredd’s world. Notice­ably, clas­sic swear words from the comic like “Drokk!” are replaced with their real world counterparts.

This is a Dredd movie that’s, suc­cess­fully, feel­ing its way, and try­ing to dis­tance itself from the Stal­lone debacle of 1995.

Of course, you’ve prob­ably heard of another film where cops have to fight their way up a city block to get to the bad guy at the top. Yep, I’m talk­ing about The Raid. I feel Dredd 3D has been unfairly com­pared to that film. In the com­ics, Dredd is often called to a block where its inhab­it­ants have become embroiled in all out war. The film is simply draw­ing mater­ial dir­ect from the source. So I think any­one who is put off watch­ing Dredd 3D because of some notion that it’s “ripped off The Raid” is miss­ing out on a real action treat.

And any­way, Dredd 3D had actu­ally fin­ished shoot­ing at the tail end of 2010. The Raid didn’t start film­ing until 2011. But The Raid hit cinemas first. I think this unfor­tu­nate tim­ing must surely account for at least some of Dredd 3D’s lacklustre box office performance.

It seems Dredd’s biggest chal­lenge might not be facing off against Judge Death — a Judge from another dimen­sion where life itself is a crime — in the third film of a planned tri­logy, but even get­ting a sequel at all. Maybe the day of the viol­ent block­buster truly is dead. Maybe dir­ect to video garbage is all we can hope for. Or maybe — fin­gers and toes crossed — decent DVD and Blu-Ray sales will be enough to green light the Dredd sequels I’d love to see.