I love it when a film lives up to my expectations. Science fiction and action fans are in a for a tasty cinema treat this weekend. Dredd 3D is a slickly directed, bullet-riddled feast for the eyes. Director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alec Garland stick to their guns, embracing their source material completely and delivering on all counts. Who would have guessed that Karl Urban would be the baddest-ass mofo of 2012 so far?
Dredd 3D is based on the long-running science fiction comic 2000 A.D. The story takes place in the near future where America has been decimated by nuclear war. Millions of survivors live in Mega City One, a vast metropolis that stretches from Washington D.C. to Boston. The teeming mass of humanity is overrun by crime and violence. Law enforcement is dispatched on site by Judges, who are also the jury and executioner. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the toughest and most respected. His superiors assign him the task of evaluating a rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). A marginal judge in her training, Anderson has one exceptional talent. She is a mutant, a gifted psychic able to read minds. Anderson and Dredd's first assignment is to investigate three homicides at a colossal apartment building called Peachtree Towers. Unfortunately for them, Peachtree Towers is run by a vicious gangster called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). She's peddles a drug called Slo-Mo, which brings time to a near stand still for the user.
First off, the Slo-Mo effect and its use in the action scenes are very well done. Visual gimmicks can be disastrous if poorly executed. The filmmakers, pardon the pun here, are judicious. The Slo-Mo scenes are interspersed at key plot points. I'll liken it to the way the Wachowski Brothers used the bullet-time effect in The Matrix. They didn't over do it, so every time you saw it, it looked cool. Pete Travis and Alec Garland pull off that same magic here. Couple that with the 3D and you have a film that looks great.
Karl Urban is awesome as Judge Dredd. He rules as much as Sylvester Stallone sucked in the crap 1995 adaptation. He is so steadfast in his portrayal. Dredd is never seen without his helmet. All you have of the actor is the physical performance, his vocal inflection, and the bottom half off his face; just enough to highlight every sneer and pursed lip. Urban plays Dredd as a man who knows the importance of his job, that the city is a hair away from total chaos, and the Judges are the only things holding that line in the sand. But he's not just rage and brutality. Urban packs a truckload of nuance into a character that can be totally one-sided. I thought he absolutely owned this film with a pitch perfect performance. Credit has to be given as well to the director and writer. They made the decision to stick with how the source material sees Dredd and it was a good one.
I have to give props to Olivia Thirlby as Anderson. She plays her part well. Anderson is the rookie, a mutant, naïve to the nature of killing. Her character has to learn that the decision to kill has to be a quick one. But she's not weak in her emotion or reticence. Thirlby stands alongside Urban's Dredd with an innate ease. The pair has a great chemistry. I don't know who the casting director was on this film, but they did a spectacular job putting these two together.
I often feel that a known commodity is the grounds for the biggest letdown. I expected action, violence, good special effects, but didn't really have high hopes for the actual story. I'm pleased to report that it's a good one that entertains. Dredd and Anderson's odyssey through Peachtree Towers captivates every second of its lean runtime. Dredd 3D is insanely violent with a lot of carnage. Don't even look in the direction of this film if you're not into action films. I cannot wait for the sequel.