An appropriate choice in the recent trend of reinventing comic book heroes, “Dredd 3D” reclaims its protagonist’s dark demeanor and serious tone, but still makes several disappointing missteps. There’s plenty of action, but variety is lacking and it ebbs at unfortunate moments, diminishing the impact of climactic sequences and antagonist retribution. Much of the violence is stylized and artistically embellished with slow motion and copious splatters of crimson, but a great deal is still just depressingly sadistic. Karl Urban is believable as the grim Judge and Olivia Thirlby is compelling as the inexperienced rookie, but we get very little background or development from either character. Perhaps the film’s strongest asset is its ferocious energy and pulsing soundtrack that manages to keep the adrenaline flowing while masking the underwhelming plot. At least for a while.
In the future, much of the world is an uninhabitable, irradiated wasteland. Walled off from the barren desert is Mega City One, the decaying remnants of once glorious cities checkered with massive new infrastructures that play host to thousands of civilians – and vicious gangs. Overrun by crime, the dystopian metropolis’ only law rests in the hands of The Hall of Justice and its highly skilled Judges, officers who must maintain order with the authority not only to pass judgment, but also immediately dispatch offenders. When Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a ruthless drug lord and sole manufacturer of the new reality-altering narcotic Slo-Mo, publicly executes three rival distributors, seasoned law enforcer Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie officer Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), the young psychic he’s tasked with assessing, are called in to investigate. But what begins as a routine drug bust quickly becomes a desperate war for survival when Ma-Ma seals off their 200-story building and sends her massive army of thugs to eliminate the two lone warriors.
“Dredd 3D” is a film full of potential but executed without finesse. Every scene seems to draw bewilderment and pondering of how they were set up for machismo and explosive awe yet culminated in missed opportunities. Many moments anticipate thrilling choreography, rambunctious havoc, and the demises of worthily hankering villains. Instead, audiences are treated to blander options, unexplained resolutions, and anticlimactic confrontations. Over-the-top, gruesome bloodshed is substituted for creativity and shock value, dwelling lengthily on appalling violence and cruelty. It’s not offensive as much as it is simply dismaying to be used in place of substance. The one-liners articulated in seconds of calm are not so unexpected, but equally disconcerting, working not to alter the morbid mood in need of comic relief, but adding staleness to a script devoid of laudable bombast. We want to cheer for Dredd, but his moments of tedious demolition give us no excuses.
Thundering bass beats and machinegun percussion helps to convince that the action sequences are more intense than they really are, Ma-Ma’s character is a stretch for uniqueness by mixing the familiar villain template’s scarred facial features with a peculiarly disimpassioned disposition, and the drug Slo-Mo is an excuse to overuse slow-motion. However, the extremely slowed down scenes are visually amusing, shot with high definition and sparkling details; and in a key instant, a spatter of glistening blood spews past the barriers of the widescreen matting. Plenty of impossibly tall buildings provide vertiginous camera angles and movements that also make effective use of the 3D process – the “3D” being an actual part of the title as opposed to just embellishing the Judge’s name. While more faithful to the British comic source material than Stallone’s previous adaptation, with creator John Wagner stepping aboard to earn a consulting producer credit, the plot designates no real peril. It focuses on two impenetrable heroes, neither of which seems susceptible to affliction (especially with the noticeable fragility of the young woman Judge being bestowed with psychic powers that feel too fantastical even for the futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting). This creates a waiting game for villains to die – and little else.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)