Film Review: Dredd 3D

A dystopian sci-fi action thriller shot in 3D and 50 shades of gray, this adaptation of the bleakly satirical comic-book series plays its story of future justice at gunpoint straight and dull.

In the future, America is a blasted wasteland, and civilization—such as it is—survives only in Mega-City One, a metropolis that stretches from what used to be Boston to the former Washington, DC. Seventeen-thousand serious crimes are reported every day, and all that stands between law-abiding citizens and roving gangbangers, drug dealers and all-around berserkers are "judges," peace officers who roll the function of judge, jury and executioner into heavily armored and more heavily armed individuals. Individuals like the principled but pragmatic Judge Dredd (Karl Urban)—imagine Dirty Harry if the rules were written so his way of policing were by the book, rather than a maverick affront to laws and systems designed to
protect the rights of victims and criminals alike.

A veteran of the never-ending war to keep Mega-City One's densely populated streets and 200-plus-story housing projects vaguely livable (if not safe by anyone's definition of the word), Dredd is abruptly partnered with rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic adopted by the state (despite longstanding prejudices against genetic mutants of any stripe) on the off-chance that her unusually powerful mind-reading and manipulating abilities might prove useful to the Hall of Justice, which commands and oversees MC1's enormous roster of judges.

Their first call takes them to a vertical slum optimistically dubbed "Peach Trees," where three men have been skinned alive and hurled off a balcony. A nasty bit of business, but nothing special until they arrest Kay (Wood Harris); he works for scarred and scary gang-lord Madeline "Ma-Ma" Madrigal (Lena Headey of 300 and “Game of Thrones”), whose clan manufactures and distributes a new narcotic scourge recently unleashed on Mega-City One. The judges intend to take Kay to the Hall of Justice for interrogation, but his ruthless boss would rather see him dead and orders Peach Trees locked down, trapping the judges between her vast army of soldiers, flunkies and upwardly aspirational riffraff and the hundreds of thousands of down-and-out tenants who just want to avoid becoming collateral damage.

It's probably safe to say that director Pete Travis, a former social worker inspired by social-activist filmmakers like Costa-Gavras and Alan Clarke, saw Dredd 3D as an opportunity to inject biting observations about creeping totalitarianism into a mainstream action movie. But the result is a lumbering glimpse of the obvious more likely to inspire knee-jerk cheers when another loathsome baddie bites the dust than to provoke thoughtful debate about the cost of surrendering political freedoms to the promise of state-delivered safety. Dredd 3D's action sequences are bloody and the production design handsome, if overly familiar (Mega-City One's Brutalist towers and clogged streets add up to variations on the now-standard-issue future urban hell most recently showcased in the 2012 remake of Total Recall). Overall, it's the kind of movie that might feel like a cool little discovery if you ran across it while channel-surfing after midnight, but it’s unlikely to make many moviegoers feel it's a must-see theatrical experience.