Unlike Tom Hardy's maddeningly mask-muffled performance in The Dark Knight Rises, Karl Urban's Dredd helmet doesn't hamper him in the least. It's true he never does take it off and all we ever see is his mouth, yet he's a fully-realized character and it's a vicarious thrill to follow him throughout the barricaded bedlam in a skyscraping fortress.
Other building lockdown knock-down, drag-out movies include Diehard, Precinct 13 and Terminator 2: Judgment Day — it's a great cinematic conceit which, if directed deftly, ramps up the suspense levels and increases the feeling of claustrophobic danger. Oftentimes, the only way out is out a window. (Yeah, there are a couple of good swan-dives and splats in Dredd!)
But before I get to the blood and brains splashed on the sidewalks, I'll let you in on a not very well-kept secret: Dredd is absolutely nothing like the campy 1995 Sylvester Stallone version, Judge Dredd. While I have not read the source material (a graphic novel, I believe), I was able to fully understand, appreciate, and like the story as it unfolded (and came unhinged! Dredd is deservedly rated R). Scripted by Danny Boyle's fave scribe Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine), and helmed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point, End Game), Dredd delivers.
Mega City One is a walled territory spanning hundreds of miles, and it's an irradiated dustbowl inhabited by some 800 million unhappy people. In this violent future scenario, the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner. When a seasoned soldier (Urban) teams with a psychic cadet (Olivia Thirlby) to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO, they have no idea just how evil the kingpin (Lena Headey) really is. Known as Ma-Ma, she is one bad muther. Gaining control of a 200-storey building's security system by taking a master hacker hostage, she locks herself, her henchmen, Dredd and the Rookie inside for a fight to the death.
There are a few clever quips and well-laced one-liners, but nothing goofy to distract from the serious mayhem that's always taking place. It's refreshing reinforcement to have one's opinion that big, action-packed action thrillers don't need to be dumbed-down.
As for the 3D, it's sparingly used. Not egregiously in your face, which means the movie will be just as good in 2D. The score and sound design are crisp and clear. Costumes, weaponry, all the sci-fi gadgetry and psychic mind-meld mumbo-jumbo, etc., are spot-on. It's a straight forward, simple story with just the right amount of trappings.
While I don't think it's destined to be a classic and I think seeing it once is enough, I highly recommend Dredd for what it is: a super-violent, well thought-out, effective thriller and action film that's flawlessly cast and has several supreme scenarios of cat-and-mouse. Which is not to say you needn't suspend disbelief — if you're a person who counts the bullets or who sighs, "Nobody could survive that!" then Dredd isn't for you.
If you can swallow a little artistic license with your SLO-MO, then you're good to go (and do go, for the big screen experience — Dredd's definitely worth the price of admission).
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson