Opening with a 3D credit sequence that would make Gaspar Noé proud, Dredd 3D announces its presence with artsy dynamism. Drum & bass and electro rock the soundtrack, slow motion invades our senses and the film confronts us with Nicholas Winding Refn’s staple cinematic materials: colour and violence. Could it be that director Pete Travis has graced us with a comic book reboot for the Drive generation?
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, doing his best Clint Eastwood impression) is a futuristic cop who acts as judge, jury and executioner out in the field. The problem arrives when he has to run a trial mission with rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a strangely attractive female mutant with a shockingly low IQ. The justification for her trial is that she is psychic and therefore worthy of a pop.
Dredd takes Anderson to Peach Trees, a notorious 200-story tower block run by an ex-prostitute, turned drug baron named Mama (Lena Headey). Mama is peddling a drug called ‘slow-mo’ which makes the brain experience time at one percent its normal speed. Everyone in Peach Trees is hooked and Mama is indulging in torture, murder and general dictatorship.
Recalling Robocop and The Terminator, Dredd 3D like Drive is a modern take on the kind of film they made best in the 80’s. It also recalls The Raid, the stunning Indonesian martial arts flick that will certainly be remembered as one of the best of 2012. Both The Raid and Dredd 3D involve an assault on a tower block in order to dismantle the criminal mastermind at the top. Sadly, Dredd 3D falls down (no pun intended) when it comes to the gravitational pull of basic sense.
Rookie Anderson is an utterly confusing character. She is a mutant, yet we never understand how or why this makes her psychic and we never encounter any other memorable mutants throughout the film. The notion that Anderson suffers from a deplorably poor IQ also comes across absurd, since she is pretty smart.
The film is smattered with satirical lines, yet there is no overall focus for parody. Where Robocop mocked the corporate culture of the Reagan eighties, Dredd 3D looks purely at itself as the subject of ridicule, allowing for some truly shocking exchanges to slip in. The worst moment sees a cornered Dredd tell his adversary to “wait” before shooting, which provokes a bizarre diatribe from his opponent about why, indeed should he wait.
The film also fails to address the ethics behind the role of judge, jury and executioner. The film’s conclusion plays out with a potentially reckless move from Dredd, yet instead of building tension and moral unease director Travis opts for coolly irrelevant spectacle.
The fact that Dredd 3D falls behind its potential is all the more disappointing, given the things it does right. Pete Travis and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle photograph key scenes with an irrefutable flare, using the high-rise geography to present impressive firefights. The film’s use of 3D is also superior to much of late, particularly when illustrating the effects of slow-mo.
Dredd 3D is a welcome, vibrant contribution to the detritus of recent 3D cinema, but there is a fundamental sense of disappointment due to its hit and miss construction. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will iron out the problems and make for a 3D actioner that is properly prepped for “Judgement Time.”