Dredd 3D: Karl Urban’s Courtroom Is Full Of Appeal
A successful Judge Dredd movie shouldn’t take rocket science: a futuristic city of corruption, a violent enforcer of the law, plenty of weapons designed to blow holes, limbs, and heads away. Yet after Sylvester Stallone’s misfire (though an immensely watchable misfire with some of the great overacting of the last twenty years), it seemed we’d never see Dredd serve justice properly on screen. While the reboot, Dredd 3D, is bombing at the box office for reasons beyond my comprehension, it delivers the basic goods. The futuristic city is gorgeously composed, the violent enforcer played by Karl Urban is badass and droll, and the weaponry does serious 3D damage, splattering any and all body parts every which way… usually toward the camera. While this isn’t for many, anyone who enjoys violent action movies will get a great kick out of Dredd.
In the futuristic Mega City One, law enforcers do the arresting, the judging, and the carrying out of sentences. Often times, in this overpopulated, crime-infested environment, that sentence is instant execution. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the most effective judge in Mega City One, and at the film’s beginning, he’s given a tough task– a young aspiring judge (Olivia Thirlby) has failed her judge’s test, but she has a special gift. He’s to take her out, train her on the job, and re-assess her preparedness. Their first assignment happens to be a doozy: dead bodies in a 200-story tenement turn out to be linked to Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a vicious drug kingpin living on the top floor. When Dredd and the rookie try to take one of Ma-Ma’s key henchmen (Wood Harris) in for questioning, she locks down the building and won’t open its doors until both judges are dead. So, it’s 200 floors of drug addicts and gangsters… versus one cop and a rookie, both with limited ammunition. Great!
While the set-up is similar to The Raid: Redemption, this film has more conventional narrative structure– it cares about its characters and their development. Budget restrictions obviously kept Dredd confined to the one building for the most part, which is a shame since its opening car chase sequence is possibly the best in the film. Pete Travis keeps the pace fast, which distracts from its basically repetitive scene structure (find, shoot, kill, etc.). The violence is as brutal as you’d expect, but the visuals are clean and crisp– the 3D effects during the drug sequences border on spectacular. The performances are fine across the board, but the real star is Urban. After stealing scenes in Star Trek, RED, and most recently Priest, he emerges here as a credible leading man in this style of thriller. He is efficient at dishing out violence and his one-liners don’t feel forced. He carries Dredd to success– though it may disappoint at the box office, hopefully it will find life on DVD/TV, where audiences can find Pete Travis and Karl Urban not guilty of Stallone’s crimes.