TIFF Review: Dredd 3D

Dredd 3D (2012, directed by Peter Travis)

This is probably the single most faithful comic book adaptation to ever hit the big screen.

Now, let me be clear here: I don't think it's the greatest comic book movie ever made. That title is clearly reserved for either Dark Knight or Scott Pilgrim, or possibly A History of Violence, and there are a bunch of others (X2, for instance) I'd stack above Dredd too, but in terms of being true to its origins nothing adapted so far has come within a mile of Dredd. This film is exactly what a movie based on your old 2000AD issues should be, and I genuinely can't conceive of a Judge Dredd movie ever being any better than this.

The quick and dirty for anyone unfamiliar with the character (and by 'unfamiliar' I mean 'have only seen that abortion of a Stallone movie'): in a future America mostly destroyed by nuclear war, a small part of the Eastern Seaboard is still inhabited, with the people living in one giant metropolitan area called Mega City One. This being a dystopia, the city is a chaotic cesspool of crime and sin, and the law is represented by Judges who have the authority to arrest, try and convict criminals on the spot. The baddest of these badasses is Judge Dredd, which makes sense given his name.

In short, Dredd the character is a fascist wet dream. And what makes Dredd 3D so nearly perfect is that it embraces that idea down to its very core. The film saddles him with a psychic rookie Judge (played by a spunky and steely Olivia Thirly) who's in danger of washing out of the force, and by seeing Dredd through her eyes while he teaches her how to be an 'effective' Judge the movie effortlessly sucks you into its worldview. It quickly becomes very easy to root for Dredd, even though by any rational standard his very existence should be horrific. Dredd, as a character, is a wrong house drug raid that kills your dog and trashes your stuff taken to its logical extreme. Dredd is the living embodiment of the bureaucratic nightmare that's the real villain in Brazil, and yet you cheer for him because he wears cool gear, has an awesome gun and has good tough-guy lines, and because Karl Urban (the man behind the face shield) knows what makes him tick and does a great near-Clint Eastwood impression for Dredd's voice. In fact based on his work here, Urban's now joined my Preacher dream cast as the Saint of Killers.

Plot-wise there's little here you haven't seen before, and recently. Once you get past the setup the movie is essentially a sci-fi version of the Raid, right down to the architecture of the building. But you know what? It doesn't really matter whether this is another case of 'parallel projects intersecting' or whether Alex Garland saw a good idea he could run with. Dredd still feels like its own thing, still feels like it was ripped out of those 2000AD back issues, and that's what matters here. Dredd and the rookie get called in to a megablock to investigate three drug-related murders, the gang in control of the block lock the whole thing down so they can't escape with a prisoner who knows too much, and the two Judges have to fight their way up to escape. Cue the ultraviolence. Lots and lots of ultraviolence.

There's almost nothing bad I can say about this movie. The effects are great, the slo-mo camera work on the drug trips is great (they didn't bring in Antichrist's DoP for nothing), Lena Headey is terrifically vicious as the gang leader, the 3D is effective, Dredd doesn't talk too much and has no romantic interest whatsoever in his cute rookie partner... it gets everything right. My only nitpick is that the aerial establishing shots of Mega City One look too much like modern highways and traffic patterns just cobbled together. That's literally the only thing I found to complain about.

Having said all that... Dredd still isn't a great film. It's just about perfect, but its ambitions are small and limited by that same source material it gets so, so right. I mean, let's be honest here. I like Judge Dredd, but he's not exactly one of the greatest or most complex characters in comics history. But that's fine. No one's going to walk into Dredd expecting an Oscar winner. They're going to walk in expecting a guy to shoot and blow up a fuckload of skeevs and wastoids, and see only the lower half of his face while he does it, that's exactly what they're going to get.


  1. I like your Dredd review but it's clear from it that
    you haven't actually read much Judge Dredd.

    The only reason why it doesn't have more 'ambition' is due to budget restrictions, simple as.

    Dredd is one of the most complex characters in comic books, if you'd read it over the past 3
    decades you'd know that. He ages in real-time and has been fleshed-out into a full 3 dimensional character in a way that comic characters like Superman, batman or Spiderman have failed to do as their stories just get re-hashed and re-told every few years or so. Mega City One is also the most expansive environment in comics for stories, you'd know that too if you'd read more Dredd.

  2. I'm not a massive Dredd fan, you're right. I read some back in my indie comics days when I was also reading stuff like Grimjack (a character I liked better, although that title got REALLY silly after a while). But in anything I've read, Dredd didn't seem like the deepest character around. Iconic, absolutely, but not what I'd call 'complex'.