Approximately 35 years after John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra created him, Judge Dredd is now one of the most popular comic book characters of all time. Unfortunately, he has fared significantly less well on the big screen, with the 1995 Sly Stallone debacle failing to capture the character effectively. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Pete Travis’ Dredd 3D (2012) – an immeasurably superior, grittier take on 2000AD’s most feared law enforcer, befitting of its comic book counterpart.
In the near future, the United States is now an irradiated wasteland. 400 million citizens populate Mega City One, where over 17,000 crimes are committed every day. Able to respond to only 6% of these wrongdoings, the Judges – upholders of the law who have the power to dispense instant justice and punishment – attempt to maintain order amid the chaos. Dredd (Karl Urban) teams up with psychic rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) to take down the psychotic Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who’s busy manufacturing new drug called ‘Slo-Mo’ within her 200-storey mega-block.
Shot in South Africa on a modest $40 million budget, Dredd 3D looks and feels like a hyper-realistic version of our own reality. It’s an excellent backdrop for the simple narrative to take place. Our protagonists are trapped in the Peach Trees block relatively early on, and thereafter the emphasis switches to the action. Screenwriter Alex Garland smartly gauges how much information the audience needs to know about Dredd, giving us just enough information to make us curious whilst keeping the character’s deeper motivations hidden.
A confusing fistfight between two judges notwithstanding, Travis handles the action sequences deftly. There is fun to be had in watching Dredd violently dispatch endless amounts of thugs with his multi-purpose gun, often accompanied by a signature grimace. Additionally, the ‘Slo-Mo’ drug – which gives its user the impression that time is running at 1% speed – combines with the 3D for some impressive visuals. Substantial credit must go to Urban, however, who imbues Dredd with the uncompromising, bad-ass persona he’s known for. The likeable Thirlby also does a good job of portraying both the tough and sympathetic facets of her character. Less effective is Headey’s scarred antagonist Ma-Ma who, aside from ordering around her minions, sadly isn’t given much else to do.
Clocking in at a pacey 96 minutes, Dredd 3D will satisfy fans as well as serve as a great introduction for newcomers to the character. With whispers of a possible franchise already circulating the web, it may not be long before a welcome sequel is green-lit – and there is now a much higher benchmark against which future Dredd films will be judged.