After the film was over I still had no desire to pick up a Judge Dredd comic. It sounds weird to say this now, but the film was a product of its time. Clearly, the makers of the original Judge Dredd film were following the Batman Forever (1995) trend of gritty, violent stories, wrapped in cartoon bumble gum. It was the implosion of an era that started in 1989 with Tim Burton’s Batman. Thankfully, we have moved on for the better.
Which brings us to DREDD 3D. I didn’t know what to expect besides the fact that Karl Urban was stepping into the Judge Dredd role. The action, what they were revealing in the teaser trailer, looked pretty straight forward. Yet, I had no idea what the story was about. Which may have been the biggest surprise of all. In the original film (sorry for the comparison) Judge Dredd uncovers a plot that could change the very world he has sworn to protect. If Dredd fails, the world will burn, which usually seems to be the case in all comic book movies. Even the most recent Spider-Man film had the hero stopping the Lizard from turning all of New York into Lizard people. This isn’t that kind of story.
This was a smaller story. It was completely refreshing and the best thing I have seen to a straight forward single issue of a comic. Dredd has to evaluate a rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), for her final exam. She has already failed the written tests by three points. Dredd’s superiors believe that her special talents are needed in the field. Dredd and his rookie are to investigate men that fell to their deaths. Was it murder? Was it a suicide? Was it gang related? Think of it as Training Day (2001) without the over acting by Denzel Washington mixed with Die Hard (1988). Everything goes wrong and it is up to Dredd and Anderson to bring order to the chaos.
The villains here aren’t super humans or cyborgs determined to rule the world. Lena Heady (300) steals much of the show as the drug lord determined to keep her product moving. Her cut throat part is usually reserved for actors of the Steve Buscemi persuasion. Here it is unnerving and unpredictable starting with the fact that she is a woman.
Now, DREDD 3D was, in fact, shot in 3D. This is where the comic book aspect of Judge Dredd really shines through. Instead of gimmicks and tricks like The Amazing Spier-Man, each violent act, drug induced state, and action scene feel and look like a comic. So much so that certain scenes are smaller on screen all to give you the illusion bullets are literally popping right off the screen.
As I stated above this is a first impression of DREDD 3D. I don’t feel as if I have the full Judge Dredd comic knowledge to make a fair full review. What I saw was gritty, raw, and refreshing. I don’t need my movie comic book heroes to save the world every time. Studios, however, want the giant sweeping epic. What I got was a good story that wasn’t over the top nor plagued by comic relief. Yes, Rob Schneider, I am looking at you.
I stopped at the 2000 AD (publishers of the comic) booth at Comic Con and asked the all important question, “Where do I start with Judge Dredd?” A question I had no desire to ask in 1995. The answer was quick and simple, “The Day the Law Died” by John Wagner. A copy of which was promptly stuck in my had by a extremely helpful British gentlemen.
As impressions go, it was a good one. Will DREDD 3D break records and beat The Avengers at the box office? No. What it will do is give fans of the comic their hero back on the big screen and introduce him to a whole generation of new ones.
Special thanks to Lionsgate for hooking up Mania with a pass to see the film. Kudos to the Lionsgate employee that sat next to me with his brother-in-law who told me his swag bag story. Classic! My final bit of thanks goes out to Karl Urban: Not only did I really enjoy your performance but that was the first time ever I sat close to the star of a movie that I was actually watching (I was right in front of him).