- Joe Alblas
For whatever reason, Lionsgate chose not to screen Dredd 3D for critics. And last weekend was the Genius Awards, which means I couldn't make the time to go see it in theaters. All this week, I've gotten e-mails from people encouraging me to go see Dredd 3D, because, as one fan wrote, "it is so fucking good." Nerds feel a certain ownership over the movie. It's based on a popular comic book series, its previous adaptation was truly awful, and it didn't even crack the top five on its opening weekend at the box office, which means it's probably going to completely disappear within a matter of weeks.
So last night, I finally made time to watch Dredd 3D. And I've got to be honest: It's not for everybody. If ultra-violence is your thing, you should absolutely go and see it. If you're a fan of the comics, you better have already seen it. Science fiction fans need to see it—although this weeks' Looper is definitely a better genre film—and action movie fans will find a lot to like, too. It's set in the far future, and it's about a fascist super-cop and his telepathic partner trying to siege a super-skyscraper slum in search of a crime lord who's manufacturing a new drug called SLO-MO. If that description does it for you, you should probably go.
Dredd 3D is solid on just about every conceivable level (except, frustratingly, the 3D, which is flat and brings nothing to the movie). The acting is excellent for a superhero movie. Karl Urban plays Dredd, who is admittedly a one-note character, as a mobile brick wall. Lena Headey's drug kingpin is a nice change from the usual teeth-gritting thug. She's quiet—almost shy—and really scary when she wants to be.The action sequences have a real sense of place, which lots of genre movies tend to forget about during shootouts and chase sequences. The special effects are, with the exception of the fake-looking CGI blood-spatters, excellent.
But there's not as much cleverness as I'd like to see in an adaptation of a very clever British comic series. The SLO-MO drug, which causes its users to see the world in slow motion, is a funny conceit that plays on modern action movie tropes, but it's not really used to interesting effect, except as a torture prolonger, which is, you know, something. The comic book Judge Dredd would surely devise a brutal and direct way to scale the building's 200-something stories, because he's a juggernaut who uses nihilism as a super-power. The movie Dredd simply plods along. There's too much exposition and not enough filmmaking bravado. What you're left with is a really good B-movie that doesn't aspire to much more than a couple hours of fun in a movie theater. After the shitty summer we had, that should be enough. But even though it has a definitive ending without all that sequel-teasing bullshit that modern comics movies feel obliged to include, I get the sense that Dredd is intended as the first act of a longer, serialized comics-style story, and I think this movie established enough of a world that the next movies could forget about the talk and just pump pure adrenaline onto the screen. It's sad that they'll never get the chance to do that.