TIFF 2012: DREDD 3D Review

     September 10, 2012


Film festivals and comic book movies typically don’t mix. Movies based on popular paneled heroes generally get their start at conventions or through marketing departments. Yet, thanks to TIFF’s Midnight Madness program a certain gruff helmet sporting antihero from the long running British comic book series 2000 A.D. is getting the red carpet film festival treatment. That’s right Judge Dredd has returned to the big screen in the hopes of erasing all the painful memories of Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider ruining the image of the darkly satirical and viciously violent character with one of the worst examples of overblown 90s blockbuster tripe. Finally put into the hands of filmmakers who are fans of the blood-soaked pulpy roots, Dredd 3D manages to get the tone and style of John Wagner’s uniquely twisted world right. It’s not perfect, but it is an appropriately nasty blast of B-movie thrills that effectively reintroduces Judge Dredd on the big screen and would be a welcome starting point for a franchise. Hit the jump to find out why. 

karl-urban-dredd-3dFor those who have missed out on Judge Dredd’s 35-year run in comics, here are the basics. The film is set in a dystopian future defined by several Mega Cities, sprawling metropolises overpopulated by millions and overrun with crime. With the police force only able to handle roughly 6 percent of the reported crimes in a given day, the rules of law have changed slightly. There are no police, there are only patrolling Street Judges who have the power to be police, judge, jury, and executioner all in one. Judge Dredd is the gruff, almost fascist poster boy for the force. He’s a man all to happy to dole out justice in a hail of bullets. The film sees Karl Urban’s deadpan growling take on the character partnered up with Olivia Thirby’s rookie Judge Anderson (a psychic, much like the comics), supervising and evaluating her first day on the job. Dredd lets Anderson pick their first crime and she chooses a disgusting triple homicide at one of the massive high-rises/contained ghettos in Mega-City.

dredd-karl-urban-olivia-thirlbyThree bodies were skinned and tossed from the top floor of the mile-high building. They were killed for crossing the building’s resident crimelord/drug manufacturer Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a former prostitute-turned sadistic killer. They arrive at the building and at this point the movie unfortunately turns into an unplanned remake of The Raid. Ma-Ma locks down the building and pits her entire army against the two judges, who are forced to kill their way to the top floor. Now, it’s worth noting that Judge Dredd superfan screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days L,ater) has been nursing along this pet project for years. The film went into production simultaneously with The Raid and in no way planned on ripping off that delightfully batshit insane instant action classic. Sadly, when you arrive in second place on a concept like this, there’s no way to make excuses to viewers. You can’t help but compare Dredd 3D to The Raid and much like every other contemporary action movie, it just can’t live up to Gareth Evans’ incredible (and incredibly bloody) accomplishment.

karl-urban-dreddThankfully the film does at least succeed on it’s own terms and The Raid formula is about as efficient as action machines get. Writer/producer Garland’s love for the Judge Dredd world is palpable. Even though he didn’t directly adapt any of the legion of stories in the 2000 A.D. back catalogue, he creates something that feels like it belongs in the cannon. His Dredd is militant force of violent justice and Karl Urban (who luckily resists the temptation to ever remove his iconic helmet) delivers his lines in a Clint Eastwood style growl with a dark sense of humor that nails the character as intended. When he announces “I am the law,” it’s an audience-rousing moment of bad-assitude, rather than the youtube clip ready campy embarrassment of Sylvester Stallone’s misguided rendition. The future world in the 2000 AD house style (which heavily influenced Ridley Scott when he was reinventing the Hollywood sci-fi aesthetic at the start of his career) is recreated well and the action is just as dirty and bloody as longtime fans crave. This is a hard-R action movie that splashes blood and explodes heads like the genre used to. It’s nice to see some studio support for that sadly abandoned form of sleazy B-movie thrills.  

dredd-3d-movie-posterThe movie isn’t all perfect of course. The dark satire that often defines the comics is sadly absent. Anderson’s psychic powers are awkwardly used only when script advancement needs to be sped up and they seem non-existent when that enhances the drama. Some of the performances are a little cardboard and while director Pete Travis frames some gorgeous 3D imagery, his car-commercial aesthetic is determined more by a barrage of beauty shots than the carefully constructed action rhythms this type of flick demands. The movie is certainly flawed, but at least it finally presents Judge Dredd as the creators intended. Dredd 3D is a strong introduction to the iconic character for unfamiliar audiences and effectively brings the tone of hard boiled violent adult comic books to the big screen. Hopefully it will be successful enough to launch a few sequels that will allow Garland to further explore this world and maybe even adapt one of the classic Judge Dredd storylines (The Apocalypse Wars in particular could be one hell of a movie if Lionsgate had a few hundred million dollars to spare on the project). But even if that doesn’t happen, chances are Dredd 3D will at least become a guilty pleasure favorite for fans of the original comics and bloody action movies unafraid to dive into the realm of delightful bad taste.

Rating: B

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  • brNdon

    Great Review. You should do this more often, Phil. You understand the concept that a review doesn’t need to summarize a movie scene-by-scene.

  • tarek

    I don’t know for this new Judge Dredd attempt, but I for myself enjoyed and still enjoy the 90′s one. And by the way, Rob Schneider was very funny.

    • DREDD-Fanatic

      Guess You do not know anything about DREDD, cause if You did You would not even mention that Sly crap from 95. Firstly DREDD never takes of He´s helmet….at that point i left the movie and did not see the rest.. Secondly…..DREDD does not wear a glamour gayish type of suit…..DREDD does not mumble words…..DREDD is not John Rambo placed in some future letting perps hit him like in Rocky!. If You want to learn the DREDD universe, start reading 2000 A.D.´s Judge DREDD by John Wagner. The DREDD 2012 movie is following the comics and Karl Urban is the ultimate personification of DREDD.

  • Just saying

    Umm, who cares about the comic. I’m a hard core comic book reader and I tried reading a Judge Dredd comic once and it sucked/boring just like those boring black and white comics. It’s no where near as fun as a Marvel Comic.

    They went out of there way to make a faithful adaption to a comic that sucks. I mean the purists were so mad when the last Dredd movie have him taking off his helmet, but doesn’t arguing about that defeat the purpose when the comic sucks. As far as I’m concerned make as many changes as you want since they will probably be improvements.

    Don’t get me wrong, I will watch this movie on a date. But, as for the comic, IT SUCKS. LOL

    Now if they are not faithful to a Marvel or DC Comic then I’m there saying they should be. But, these third rate comic book characters: From Dick Tracy to Judge Dredd to The Rocketeer, umm, who gives a sh#t since we most who read comics did not read this cr@p. :)

    • Joe Soap

      Well DC/Marvel comics are written for kids so it’s reasonable you’d find Judge Dredd comics boring. Don’t worry, someday you’ll be old enough to understand them.

      • Drew

        “Well DC/Marvel comics are written for kids”. I don’t think you really read comics if you think that. I guess you are either a troll or are just plain stupid because superhero comics aren’t for or even aimed at kids.

    • Grayden

      Some of those old pulp comics from the 40s and 50s are goldmines. given the right script and director, they could bring back the long lost cinematic art of the Noir genre. Sure, a lot of it was tame fun for kids, but they were there to give kids role models and someone for them to pretend to be when playing with other friends. By comparison, The Avengers was pretty tame fun; it wasn’t darker or as gritty/realistic as Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Just because those comics are old doesn’t mean they couldn’t be adapted for modern audiences and be entertaining. Hell, there’s so many films being made that are based on Comics, Graphic Novels, and regular Novels that I’ve never even heard of; doesn’t mean the material is terrible.

    • Drokk

      Unfortunately you won’t get to see this film for quite a few years based on your comment. Its a hard R film, you aint old enough to get in.

      You read ONE old Dredd comic got bored and decided all the other thousands of iterations of it are all the same? Jesus! Try reading issue 1 of any of your big marvel comics characters, Hulk, daredevil, Ironman thor etc.. tell me you LOVE them too! Youth is no excuse for ignorance!

    • Brian

      Umm, the readership of 2000ad and Judge Dredd care about the comic.
      Surprised you couldnt find one story in Dredds almost 30year back catalogue that you didn,t find boring.
      Ummmm, I’ll will go see this movie (not on a date as it’s ultra-violent), but as for the comic, IT DOESNT SUCK. LOL
      Ummmm, ummmmmm, ummmm, IT SUCKS. LOL smiley face.

    • Hawkmonger

      Wait, so you read one Judge Dredd comic, and being black and white that can be annything from 1977 to the mid to late 80′s, and you think the whole franchise is shit? Judge Dredd has probably had less low points than Batman on hiw own, and just because a comic is in Black and White doesn’t take away from the experience, indeed, most of the best comics ever written are in black and white. Look at The Apocalypse War, Judge Death, City of the Damned. All classic Dredd taht ecplise prity much everything either DC or Marvel have ever made. Try doing a bit of proper research before you comment, yeah? Yanky git.

  • Beatific

    Watched this last night, loved it. Nice to see a version of Judge Dredd that hasn’t been watered down to a 12 certificate or something. Some impressive 3D as well.

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  • tyler silvas

    Dark Knight rises is a c, but this blatant ripoff of Asian cinema gets a b. you have zero credibility.

    • Anonymous

      I’m sorry to burst your bubble toddler Timmy, but this is not a ripoff. I’m sure sure your referring to The Raid, does the movie die hard sound familiar to you or wait maybe it ebars resemblance to the Dredd storyline “Escape From Kurt Russell Block”. Go peddle your lame insults elsewhere because were all full up here.

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