It’s all the deep end.
Look up at the title of this movie. It has a 3D in it. That’s part of the title. This is, for most cinephiles, enough to write the film off as another cynical Hollywood cash-grab. This is not the case. This second attempt at adapting the Judge Dredd comic series into a celluloid series is a labor of love for everyone involved. You can tell that these guys knew what they were doing. There’s a care in the set-up, where we’re introduced to a post-apocalyptic future where the only city stretches from Boston to Washington DC and is partially comprised of giant towers that act as their own mini-cities. We soon find ourselves following the titular Judge (the only law remaining) and a rookie with special skills into one of these tower cities to investigate a murder (or three) which turns into a quest for justice regarding a drug kingpin/crime boss/controller of the tower/Cersei Lannister. The two Judges fight their way to the top, at which point they fight some more. It’s an action movie, and a very good one.
The script is by Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later…, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go. He knows his sci-fi action films and he knows how characters should act and when they should break away from their normal modus operandi, a quality which shines here. The script isn’t anything super special, but it does its job and it posits a clever “what if” scenario. The biggest flourish is a new drug that’s hitting the streets (floors?) called SLO-MO. Take three guesses what effect it has upon its users (and how we see it as the viewers). Here’s where we get our first hint that we’re in good hands. Director Pete Travis not only slows down the action whenever the drugs are in play, but he also adds a kind of glimmering sheen to everything. We see Ma-ma, the boss, take the drug while she’s ensconced in a bathtub full of plain old water. Plain and old until she takes a hit of SLO-MO, at which point it turns into a shimmering, beautiful display of wonder. How did nobody think to do this before? The 3D even adds to this effect, and enhances the ideas of the film. It’s the rare action movie that takes time to consider how the explosions can serve the camera instead of the other way around. Falling glass, high caliber bullets blowing walls to shreds, and even boring old room clearing is heightened and intensified by the combination of the SLO-MO effects and the 3D filming.
The thing with this movie is that it’s kind of empty. There are some things about duty and the role of fascism and even some character development in Dredd’s psychic companion, played admirably by Olivia Thirlby. That’s all nice, and another bonus in this era of the supremely dumb action film, but it’s not a movie that will leave you thinking. At best, you’ll appreciate the grimy beauty and the solid performances from Karl Urban, who, unlike that other Dredd, never removes his helmet and still manages to convey all you need to know about his character, and Lena Headey as the drug queenpin. She does some stuff similar to her iconic Cersei Lannister role in Game of Thrones, but Ma-ma is a little smarter and practical than that demon woman. You can see how she operates and why she can actually rule over a large area while Cersei fumbles around making grand speeches and getting nowhere. Also, there’s a lot of violence. That’s fun. What else do you need?