Dredd 3D review

Grim, stylish and downright nasty: the new 3D Judge serves up a silly slice of fanboy justice

Following in the choppy wake of ‘Total Recall’ comes the second Nineties sci-fi reboot in as many weeks. With the embarrassing Sylvester Stallone original setting a low bar for comic-book adaptations in 1995, the usual gasps of geek outrage have been replaced with the flicker of hope that, finally, someone might make the Judge Dredd movie that fans have been waiting for. Dark, blunt and absurdly violent, the new Judge is about as close to his 2000AD graphic novel origins as anyone would want – a one-dimensional character in a 3D world.

Back in black... Karl Urban as Dredd (Copyright: Entertainment 1)

Post-apocalyptic America is built around vast, over-populated ‘megacities’ choked with organised crime. Stalking the mean streets in his bulky combats and silly hat is Dredd, a member of an elite police force that doesn’t have to answer to anybody. He is, as he likes to snarl at all his victims, the “judge, jury and executioner”. Stepping into Stallone’s futuristic jackboots, Karl Urban doesn’t exactly have a hard act to follow – or a lot of lines to memorise. With only a downturned mouth visible beneath his comically outsized helmet, Urban growls his sparse one-liners like a Clint Eastwood Terminator. By the time his name shows up on the end credits it’s surprising to remember that there was even anyone ‘acting’ underneath the armour.

In true ‘Dirty Harry’ fashion, Urban’s grizzled cop is reluctantly partnered up with a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) on her first day, and the duo quickly find themselves fighting their way through a tower block controlled by Lena Headey’s psycho-sadist gang-boss. Playing it cool, Headey makes a good foil for Urban’s grunting brute and Thirlby’s wide-eyed nerves, standing out from the sea of grimaces and gurns as a surprisingly believable baddie.  

Newbie... Olivia Thirlby stars as Dredd's partner (Copyright: Entertainment 1)

Just like Gareth Evan’s recent (and much better) actioner ‘The Raid’, the film plays like a video game - each level of the grimy high-rise offering a slightly different looking corridor, a bigger gun to fire and a swarm of faceless goons to see riddled with bullets in glorious slow motion.

According to screenwriter Alex Garland, the hallucinogenic action sequences were influenced by the super slo-mo used in BBC nature documentaries. Pared with a sub-thumping electro score, the distractingly cool visuals almost send the movie over into full-frontal gun porn. Making rare good use of the 3D specs, director Pete Travis gleefully hurls glass, bullets and globs of digital blood into your face every few minutes – using the effects of a time-altering drug as a conveniently stylish excuse to let you see every gory detail. Slowed down to a chemical crawl, with every molecule of blasted flesh sent slowly revolving around the cinema, the effect is spectacular, if occasionally sickening.

Explosive... Dredd 3D (Copyright: Entertainment 1)

Dazzling, depthless and failing to carry out even the basic tenets of storytelling – it’s proof that papering enough style over the substance can still make for a relentlessly entertaining ride. Sending Stallone’s Dredd even further down the bargain bin, the Judge has finally made his way to the big screen with a mostly satisfying bang.

Rating: 3/5

Certificate: 18
7th September 2012

Watch our exclusive 'Dredd 3D' featurette