Movie Review: ‘Dredd 3D’ (Spoiler Free)

Dredd 3D (2012)

Dredd 3D


Directed by Pete Travis
Screenplay by Alex Garland
Starring: Karl Urban (Judge Dredd); Olivia Thirlby (Judge Cassandra Anderson); Lena Headey (Ma-Ma); Wood Harris (Kay)


Some 800 million people crowd the avenues of Mega-City One, sheltered from the irradiated wasteland of North America’s Cursed Earth. The walled border protects its citizens from more than pervasive toxicity however. Should a refugee flee the confines of Mega-City One and somehow survive long enough to distance herself from its squalor, that lost soul would turn back to face a miserable premise in her final moments. From various angles, wide and level, the sprawling megalopolis registers as a graveyard, each monolithic mega block tower another grim headstone along the horizon. The blocks themselves are high-rise slums, ghettos so tall, the only way to go is down. Mega-City One is a place to live all of your life until you slump down and die. When that happens, whatever’s left of you is “recycled.” Casually. Cryptically.

It’s the kind of place where riots blossom at the slightest collision of pedestrians. Some 94% of its 17,000 daily (reported) crimes go unanswered, unpunished. But for the unfortunate hoodlums who do draw the attention of the stoic Judges of the  overtaxed justice system, retribution is swift and absolute. Court rooms are housed under dauntless helms and due process arrives from the muzzle of voice activated Lawgiver sidearms, lending the term ‘judge’s chambers’ a haunting new meaning. Especially notorious among these stone-cold sentinels is Dredd, the last Judge you want to see in the rear-view whether you’re a bona fide crook or simply going about your business. Collateral damage is simply a hazard of waking up in Mega-City One.

These days, there’s even more creative ways to die. A new drug called “Slo-Mo” has hit the street in every sense of the word. Transported and consumed through inhalers, the narcotic alters perception instantaneously, slowing the world down to 1% of its normal speed. Or at least, that’s how it feels to the user. Chemically speaking, it’s an opportunity for these skells to stop and smell the roses in something like bullet time. Pleasure, as it turns out, is a precious commodity in Hell. Conceived as a beautiful but disorienting visual for movie audiences, the Slo-Mo sequences are refreshingly practical excuses to revel in slow motion photography, and often serve as warm respites from an otherwise gloomy film world. Not that everything that happens under the influence of Slo-Mo is enjoyable. To the extreme contrary. Distilling a moment of its innate, near cosmic pleasure into a sustained burst of euphoria works the other way too. Without giving too much away, imagine perceiving a moment’s pain and suffering as something far less fleeting.

Note: This kind of thing can be pretty gross.

So, Slo-Mo’s bad news, and it’s also against the law. That bothers Dredd something fierce. So, when a triple homicide investigation in a Mega Block called Peachtrees turns up evidence of a deeply entrenched drug ring, the enforcer endeavors to stamp out the problem where it lives. There’s a fly in the ointment though. Dredd is currently partnered with a young woman named Cassandra Anderson. It’s her first day on the job, and any other applicant with similar test skills would’ve been shown the door. Anderson has something those other rookies don’t though. Anderson is a mutant with the kind of natural talents that render scores and evaluations moot. Is it enough of an edge though? Or, is it actually a liability?

All rise for Judges Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) and Dredd (Karl Urban)

Assessment day is a trial by fire. Together, Dredd and Anderson represent the last remnants of law and decency when Madelaine “Ma-Ma” Madrigal, matriarch of the slum’s sovereign Ma-Ma gang, orders the block into lockdown. It’s a classic scenario rife with mounting suspense, reminiscent of Bruce Lee’s swan song Game of Death or 2011’s The Raid: Redemption. While it lacks the number of bold set pieces of either of those flicks, there’s no shortage of meat and potatoes gunplay. Dredd’s playing a longer game. In fact, it comes down to dread. Ma-Ma looms large over the complex. The Judges’ peril, their exceptionally unfavorable odds, remain acutely felt throughout their ordeal. Everyone in this 200-floor facility is out to get them.

Little pigs, little pigs. We will huff and puff and knock this mother down. 

Anderson’s temperament–especially in contrast to Dredd’s–adds another welcome dimension. Anderson’s profound empathy for the innocent residents of Peachtrees means she shoulders a greater burden than Dredd, and Olivia Thirlby handily traverses that more traditional protagonist role. That’s important, because Urban’s Dredd doesn’t exhibit much change from start to finish. That’s not unusual for, say, a Batman appearance in a Justice League story. But it’d be a hugely controversial choice for a Batman solo film. Even more so for Spider-Man in one of his films. There’s no right or wrong philosophy here with regard to superhero stories in general, but Dredd has no alter ego. He’s a hurricane. His mask is his face and he suffers no real doubts. This isn’t even an origin story as we’re so accustomed. It’s simply an episode in Dredd’s ongoing crusade, and ends with an appropriate nod toward how little things have changed on the whole, even after such a daunting trial.

So, a litmus test.

If the prospect of receiving a movie on a rewritable disc scrawled with Sharpie, housed in a wrinkled paper sleeve with a plastic window, sounds unattractive, this second live action adaptation of Wagner and Ezquerra’s Judge Dredd serial might not be your flavor. If, however, it rekindles fond memories of exotic bootleg discovery, dodgy foreign imports and broken English captions, head thee to the multiplex. Starting with a delightfully low-res Reliance Entertainment logo at the head of the feature, Dredd 3D is a throwback to the cult classics of a bygone era, visually dark and coarse with a level of grindhouse grain often thicker than a South Jersey gnat storm (Your projection may vary). Though time has done much the same for 1995’s uneven (but not entirely uninspired) Sylvester Stallone vehicle, this new Dredd is so far removed from that previous film’s sensibility and aesthetic that each could practically be defined in its stark contrast to the other.

Where Stallone swiftly abandons the signature helmet after one introductory sequence, Karl Urban’s eyes are never on display. He could boast platinum cornrows under that dome and we’d never be the wiser. Though his chin has nothing on Sly’s or even some fellow Judges’ jawlines, his grimace is unwavering. Where Stallone looked to Diane Lane’s Judge Hershey for deeper insight into the legal system, it’s Urban who reminds new protege Anderson of the ins and outs of procedure. More importantly, Dredd 3D never attempts to dissect or demystify its protagonist. It’s a Man With No Name western to its counterpart’s standard adventure vehicle. To its boon or detriment, Dredd 3D is also largely humorless. Even if Rob Sneider isn’t your stop on the jolly trolley, the 1995 movie is inarguably lighter and campier.  Could Dredd 3d have used a bit of levity? Probably. Sleepy, if cunning, Ma-Ma may even have benefitted from some of Rico’s bombast. But the verdict’s pretty clear on this one. Dredd 3D picks off exactly as much as it can chew and provides a refreshingly self-contained comic adaptation that boasts one of the most self-assured interpretations of its title hero.

First person who comments “I knew you’d say that.” gets a complimentary hot shot.

4 Stars

(Out of 5)



  1. I wanna see this now

  2. I’m conflicted. Keith Phipps at the AV club, my favorite review site, gave this a really bad review (,85173/ ). But the rotten tomato meter is really high and the consensus among most critics seems to be quite positive ( Throw in the fact that I really dislike 3D movies because they tend to darken the screen in a way that I find very distracting and just don’t know what to do with this. Probably just end up flipping a coin.

    • I understand. I hate 3 d Normally. But it’s MEANT to be dark, it feels dark, it makes you feel grimy while you watch it., and the 3d is used in the same way that bullet time was when Matrix first came out – As an important vehicle for telling the story , not just an add on .

  3. Paul just came out of seeing Dredd and I really did enjoy it. I was kinda of hoping for a, “I knew you’d say that”, but the “I am the law” was delivered exceptionally well. I didn’t really care for the 3D but I haven’t been impressed by any of the 3D versions of films anyway. The Hot Shot scene was incredibly interesting in a, eww I really didn’t need to see that but it was pretty cool.

  4. So Glad this is getting High Praise-Can’t wait to see it

  5. Lena Headey deserves alot of credit for her role as MaMa. Despite only having a scar on her face, the entire group I went to see it with didn’t recognize her until I said “It was Cersei Lannister!”

    • Agreed. She looks like Domino era Keira Knightley after thirteen months in a Thai prison. But more importantly, it’s an entirely different energy than Cersei’s. I think the same can be said of Urban, who’s operating on a far different level than he did in Star Trek as Bones.

  6. I saw this at a free sneak preview a week or two ago it was excellent. My second favorite movie this year. I wasn’t sure if I’d even liked it but had a blast and fell in love with Dredd.

  7. Go see it . NOW. IN 3d – At the Cinema – It is relentless and needs the big screen like no other film.
    Gruddam it !

  8. A damn good action movie.

  9. in the Judge Dredd story in prog 1703 of 2000ad – you see a poster with
    Urb Karlan : the burning man,
    Urb Karlan = anagram of Karl Urban ? 😉

  10. Nice review, Paul.
    I have to say that while the positives you list here are all pretty much true, as a lifelong Dredd fan I found this movie hugely disappointing. The lo-fi approach to realising Mega City One left me cold, and the pedestrian, paper thin plot left me longing for the old Stallone version (though I know I’ll be in the minority there)! For all it’s flaws (and I admit there are many), at least the original adaptation aimed for a little of the scope and scale of the 2000AD “mega-epics” I grew up on, bringing in the Cursed Earth, Rico, the Angel Gang, even Hammerstein from the ABC Warriors strip. The closest we get here is a couple of throwaway bits of graffiti on block walls referencing Chopper, perhaps a teaser for an unlikely-to-happen future episode.
    While the movie does have some good things going for it, mainly the performances of the leads as Paul mentioned, and although it does seem to carry the approval of John Wagner, to me it misses the essence of Dredd completely, burying the spirit of adventure and satire in a swath of gore and nastiness. As such it is a huge missed opportunity- I can only hope that those who go to see it having never read a Dredd book will not be discouraged from picking one up and getting to know the real Mega City One as portrayed by messrs Wagner&Grant, Bolland, McMahon, Ewins, Ezquerra, McCarthy, Dillon etc. If you’ll excuse the pun, this movie simply does not do these gentlemen and their work justice.

    • I for one will definitely be seeking out some Dredd comics.

    • Yeah, this film really made me want to read some Dredd comics. Maybe that new Judge Dredd book with all of the Brian Bolland stories will be a good place to start.

    • I share your disappointment glcfarmboy. Once i’d gotten over the nerdgasm of seeing it on the big screen, the whole thing came across as incredibly one-note. Even got a tad dull in the middle and then just sort of ended. What’s great about the great Dredd stuff is getting to know the poor denizens of Meg1 and watching them trying to cook up schemes and not get caught by Dredd. For me he’s best as the unstoppable force type motif, with the true characterisation going to the crooks etc. They ought to have played it like that, a big heist movie, with added Dredd kicking their butts – which is still somehow satisfying.

  11. P.S. I think labelling this review as “spoiler free” is largely redundant, as I can’t recall the existence of a single plot twist or surprise in the whole damn movie.
    Unless I missed a post-credits introduction of the Dark Judges or something….

    • Spoilers aren’t just about plot-twists, cameos or easter eggs, you can spoil any moment in any story.
      “that bit in the fight at the end where…” it may not be a big twist but movies should be experienced for themselves. It’s one of the reasons I hate trailers that detail the entire plot of the film, or the entire plot EXCEPT the twist at the end.
      I’d like to experience the whole story the way the director intended thank you very much, not know everything going in but I still want to read reviews, which is why, I for one, like the fact that this review was “spoiler free”.
      Unless literally nothing happened in the film for two hours (which I highly doubt) then there is something that could be spoiled.

  12. I love this movie. Nailed Dredd’s character, and Anderson was done great too, combined with the classic Dredd judging a rookie angle. Just nailing the grim, break yet badass and entertaining fact that this guy is literally all about doing this, all the time.

    Tho thumbs up, baby.

  13. Ya this movie is a total bluray buy. This is movie a blast. Go buy some popcorn and enjoy whether you know Dredd or not.

  14. This reminded me a lot of Blade in just the way the audience reacted. I don’t think they expected it to be as violent as I did and looking back Blade was the same way. I remember people squirming during the blood shower dance scene and someone actually walked out of Dredd in my showing.

    More on point though I loved everything about this movie. I loved how rundown this world was. I loved Urbans voice and the way he carried himself. I loved Judge Anderson and that the script didn’t shy away from mutants, one of the more out there aspects of the Dredd lore(not as out there as robot bloodhounds complete with actual nostrils that think independently but out there). This whole thing was great.

  15. Can I see this movie in Regular-D? I really don’t like 3-D. Brings back bad Jaws 3D memories.

  16. This was a pretty good flick and ran the close risk of coming off as campy. There were 2 things that really surprised me about this movie. 1: Anderson. I saw this movie with the wifey and we agreed that Anderson was in a lot of ways a feminist hero. The expectations were low from authority and the audience. She`s a young woman in a superhero movie and that`s sure to be exploited for sex appeal. Instead they didn`t dye or pluck her eyebrows and even tho it was 18A in Canada there was no nudity. She also, as a chracter rose above expectations and defined her own role as unique from the main character. Cool stuff. 2: The 3D really impressed both my wife and I. I hate 3D and she likes it even less. There hasn`t been a good 3D movie since Avatar or Hubble3D. This certainly wasn`t on the same levels as those films, but it did raise the bar a bit from the past 2 years or so.

    I haven`t read too much Dredd, but after seeing this I will be seeking some out.

  17. well let’s face it the 95′ film didn’t exactly set the bar high, still looking forward to seeing this one though 🙂