Title: Dredd 3D
Director: Pete Travis
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Heady, Wood Harris
Dredd is the RoboCop sequel Paul Verhoeven never got to make. Karl Urban seems to have used Peter Weller’s performance as a reference, but is able to make the titular character into his own. While it’s lacks the satire of the 1987 classic, Peter Travis’ take on the helmet wearing badass has the ultra-violence and visuals that would inhabit one of Verhoeven’s big three (Robo, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers.) It’s also the best comic book film of the year!
Many comparisons have been made to The Raid, and it’s almost hard not to compare the two films. True, The Raid showcases much more brutal fight scenes and action, Dredd has much better character moments. We’re allowed to spend time with Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) and learn just enough about her to make her a worthy contrast to Dredd. Alex Garland’s script also gives us a more complete story to follow, reading just like any one of John Wagner’s stories. His dialogue is cheesy when it needs to be without being cringe-worthy.
He’s backed up by some great direction by Pete Travis, who really gets the grim reality of Mega City-One. While technically Dredd is supposed to take place far into the future, Travis creates a dystopian world that feels very much alive. He also understands pacing, as Dredd never feels boring, nor does any of it feel like a ploy just to get to the next action sequence. When those glorious bloodbaths happen, Travis stages them with enough badassery to make each feel unique, with none of them feeling repetitive.
None of this would be worth it if the actor behind the helmet wasn’t engaging. That’s not a problem when it comes to Karl Urban, who’s never been better in a title role. It’s a joy to finally see him being used properly as a lead, and I really hope this blows the doors open for him. He IS Dredd, and it’s apparent he’s having a the time of his life in that helmet. It helps indie queen Olivia Thirlby has great chemistry with Urban, making her Judge Anderson the heart of the picture. While it’s still Urban’s movie, Thirlby makes for a solid sidekick. More importantly, she never distracts or is incompetent. Lena Heady seems to be having fun with Ma-Ma, the Peach Trees slumlord who manufactures the drug Slo-Mo, while Wood Harris turns in a fun performance as Kay, who can be described as a more sex-obsessed Avon Barksdale.
Dredd was shot in 3D, which means it’s worth paying the extra money to check this out in the way it was originally intended. The scope of Mega City-One is helped, and some of the “Slo-Mo” violence is amplified with the extra dimension. For instance, one action sequence has a man being shot with blood spewing over the black bars at the bottom of the screen. It’s a cheer worthy moment in a film that features some of the best 3D to date.
The same could be said about the film on its own, as Dredd is far and away the best comic book film of this year. Dredd doesn’t wait until it’s third act to kick it, nor does it try to become overly-complex. From start to finish, this pumps the adrenaline enough to get things going, taking time to breathe so we can get to know our characters, only to ramp things up again once we get enough meat.
Quite simply, we need more action films of this ilk.