Following my feature on the previous cinema incarnation of Judge Dredd, the time has come to turn my attentions to the reboot of the 2000 AD embodiment of the law, in Dredd 3-D. My judgement of Stallone’s 1995 was that is was a huge case of wasted potential, an easy watch, but one that disregards the character’s and universe’s unique vibe and characteristics. It was most certainly a property that demanded, no, needed, another shot at being a cinematic success. And while it has unfortunately not proven to be too successful in terms of box office, performing rather poorly in the states, the court is happy to rule that this Dredd atones for Stallone’s version; grabbing it by the nuts, punching it in the throat and throwing it out of a 200 story window. Yeah.

Dredd 3-D makes the smart choice of re-introducing the world of Mega City One and Dredd within the framework of a tight and focused self-contained story. In the city of the future, where America has become an irradiated wasteland, Mega City stands tall within the ruins of the old world, surrounded by the Cursed Earth. Fighting for order in the chaos are the Judges, who are Judge Jury and Executioner. The best and most feared among these Judges is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), who is assigned with assessing trainee Judge Anderson (Olivia Thrilby), who would be a rather average Judge if it wasn’t for her mutant psychic abilities. Elsewhere in the city, a new drug, known as ‘Slo-mo’ is taking over the inhabitants of the tower block known as Peach Trees, where the criminally insane crime-lord Ma-Ma (Lena Heady) is in charge of production and distribution. Following a homicide investigation at Peach Trees, Dredd and Anderson apprehend one of Ma-Ma’s henchmen. To avoid him being taken away, Ma-Ma locks down the building and orders the death of the Judges. Locked down and nowhere to go; the Judges decide to take the fight all the way to the top to put an end to Ma-Ma’s reign over Peach Trees. Bring it on. 

The film is fast paced, and action-packed in a brilliantly trashy sense. The tone and the story embrace a pulpy 1980’s action movie vibe, doused in stylish violence and imaginative take-downs. Thankfully, there is no development within Dredd’s character. He remains the cold, quippy lawman, rather fascist, but fully and totally bad-ass. The character development is given to Anderson, the audience’s eyes throughout the action. She grows as both a person and as a Judge, realizing that perhaps she doesn’t want those two labels to go hand in hand. And the two characters are brilliantly portrayed by Urban and Thirlby. Urban is the law. In a neat opening sequence, we see him suit up in the shadows, donning the helmet upon his head, and there it remains! He is a man governed by the law he upholds, in the most brutal way possible to establish law and order and maintain order among-st chaos. His actions punched hard and his one-liners are well delivered and wonderfully tongue-in-cheek. His coarse voice is a mix of Dirty Harry and Batman, and his chin is suitably imposing. He suits the mantle of Dredd in a way Stallone never could. Thirlby is the heart and soul of the film, a character who personifies the questionable moral values of the justice system. In support, Lena Heady is suitably vicious and nasty as the archaic Ma-Ma, making the skin crawl and the nerves shudder.

One of the strength’s of Stallone’s effort was the production design, and this effort is no different. It feels like a completely different beast, and importantly so. Gone is the cartoon-ish spirit inhabited by Stallone, what we have instead is a visceral and gritty environment, from the more realistic uniforms and Law-master’s, to Mega City itself. Perhaps the more cartoon-esque element this time around is the violence, in that it is fantastically over-the-top and snatches the breath from your very lungs. The over-the-top violence is supported by some stunning cinematography from regular Danny Boyle collaborator, Anthony Dod Mantle. It hits hard, spills over the frame, and the 3-D is surprisingly serviceable, particularly within the ‘Slo-mo’ induced sequences. That, coupled with a heavy synthesized, electric soundtrack paints a trashy, dark, gritty and visceral environment that is perfectly suited for this Dredd.

Screenwriter Alex Garland and director Pete Travis have concocted a comic-book adaptation that is truer to its roots than any other Comic-Book adaptation out there. It is certainly let down by its budget restrictions; as we only get to see a window in to this world. It is understandable in the sense that Garland and Travis want the world to be established before developing into the more bizarre and vibrant world of 2000 AD. Due to the poor opening at the US box office, it is, unfortunately, looking quite unlikely that we’ll see a second installment, which would make this one feel rather incomplete. It feels like this is the first chapter in an on-going story set within a world that I desperately want to see more of on-screen. The tone is perfect. Urban is perfectly suited. Now all this Dredd needs is a bigger canvas in which to further embrace his rich comic-book roots. This is an almost perfect adaptation of a cult-favourite character, but there is still much more to be had from the world of Dredd. Hopefully a day will come when we see more of this world, until then, we most certainly have a much better definitive version of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s character. And if there is any justice in the world, this will not be the last we see of him.

4/5- A self-contained, brutal, gritty and damned-entertaining comic-book adaptation, with stunning violence, an exhilarating pace and a well-established world. And you’ll believe that Urban is the law.

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