“All we do is turn the handle”
Whether Gareth Evans admitted Dredd 3D went into production while he was still filming The Raid or not, the similarities can’t be dismissed. I’m not saying this to imply theft—just that comparison is unavoidable. Liking one will probably mean the other disappoints, but the one you see first won’t necessarily be your favorite. No, I stand by the fact that this futuristic, crime-riddled world is objectively less effective than its Indonesian rival. It drags in multiple places, finds unintentional laughs through coldly stern line deliveries, and ends up ruining its most artistic flourish with bad 3D made worse due to our ability to clearly discern each flattened layer of depth in slomotion. Sure it’s a fun actioner at the tail-end of summer, but gunfire and explosions don’t get my adrenaline pumping like Evans’ relentless hand-to-hand combat.
Directed by Pete Travis—he of the even more disappointing Vantage Point—and written by Alex Garland, I do appreciate what was done in the contextual hope of making multiple films inside Mega City One. A personal favorite of mine, Garland has always been an artist able to infuse intellect and emotion into his science fictional apocalyptic visions. He began to bring Carlos Ezquerra and John Wagner‘s comic book character to life back in 2006 with ideas of using popular storylines and arcs before realizing there was a need to familiarize audiences with who the Judges were first. But rather than give a long, overblown history of what happened to create this walled in wasteland’s hybrid of old world and mega world construction, Garland throws us into a single day’s chaos to understand exactly what motivates them.
We don’t need to know who Dredd (Karl Urban) was before donning the helmet—the fact he appears to be the only pure hearted man on the force is proven through his actions. He is a man of character who takes his job seriously. There is no idealism or hope to make life better; he merely does his work while keeping as many innocent civilians alive as he can. If one does die in the crossfire, he will use it as evidence to deal the perpetrator a death sentence. Remorse is a liability he has eliminated from his mind a long time ago. So, while his didactic upholding of the law mercilessly cuts through the environment’s bleak despair, it becomes the duty of a rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) to give us a non-jaded outlook with which to align.
Unless the target audience is composed with sociopathic revelers of starkly depicted murder devoid of a soul, someone involved needs a semblance of humanity. An under-achieving orphan with mutant psychic abilities, Anderson’s powers are all that’s kept her from washing out of the Judge process completely. An assessment from the law’s most devoted member becomes her final chance to prove herself as the selection to handle a triple homicide at Peach Tree Block possesses the case to make or break her. Anderson takes point as Dredd sits back to grade her decisions, but the situation escalates when she searches telepathically through a prisoner’s head to discover he skinned and dropped the deceased from on high. Unable to execute him on the spot without a confession, Kay’s (Wood Harris) arrest forces block kingpin Ma-Ma’s (Lena Headey) hand.
Afraid of what he may say during interrogation, Ma-Ma locks down the 200-floor establishment and turns her citizens against the Judges. What ensues is a cat and mouse chase with Gatling guns to ascend, survive, and hand out justice. Rather than give non-stop action like in The Raid, however, Garland and Travis add way too much filler between dust-ups. After an entire level is decimated, we must sit and wait as backup is duped and a new plan to kill Dredd and Anderson is hatched. It’s a case of Hollywood always under-estimating their audience’s intellect by giving way too much explanation and not enough action. Too often characters find themselves reading dialogue as though from an instruction manual to reinforce we understand what’s going on. Tedium sets in quickly and the impersonal videogame-esque laser bursts don’t help.
Don’t get me wrong—the new-fangled technology in play is pretty awesome. But it should be used to enhance instead of consume. With pulse guns capable of rapid fire, armor piercing rounds, stun shocks, grenades, and incendiaries by simply saying aloud what ammunition you’d like, these Judges are ready for war. But couldn’t they have put them down at least once for some good old-fashioned sparring? At least our heroes do get shot once or twice so they can use their medical foam and instant stitches, but even with that the stakes are nonexistent. Cool gadgets, an inspired drug concoction of Slo-Mo inhalers, and some brutally graphic carnage try to make-up for our lack of caring about the characters, but superficial aesthetic only goes so far.
As for the acting: Headey is menacingly ruthless; Thirlby endearingly likeable and relatable; Wood effective as a street punk a la “The Wire”; and Domhnall Gleeson the only victim earning sympathy. I actually liked them all, including lead Karl Urban’s immovable scowl as Dredd. Yes, many of his lines were cheesy and delivered so emotionlessly that you have to laugh, but watching a few other Judges in action makes me think this was the point. These men and women aren’t supposed to have opinions; they must follow the law to the letter. And while it’s Thirlby’s Anderson who evolves during the film, Dredd does find a bit of gray creeping into his high contrast existence. I can see Urban getting a lot more to do in sequels as a result, but I’m not sure we’ll ever find out.
 Karl Urban stars as ‘Judge Dredd’ in DREDD 3D. Photo credit: Joe Alblas
 Lena Headey stars as ‘Ma-Ma’ in DREDD 3D. Photo credit: Joe Alblas
 Olivia Thirlby stars as ‘Anderson’ in DREDD 3D. Photo credit: Joe Alblas