People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different. In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all. Read on!
Remember when comic book movies were films to be wary of? When thick-armed, muscle-heads like Sly Stallone wore big ugly costumes and Joel Schumacher ruined everyone’s childhood visions of a Batman movie? The thought of Dredd 3D feels like the tracers and voices from that era’s acid flashback.
They may have reached too far in the publicity for Dredd 3D to make it seem like another big action blockbuster cluttering up the gracious end of summer’s moron season. Where the trailers and shadowy billboards make Dredd 3D lean towards action spectacular and high-gloss, Dredd 3D is actually a low-budget, near exploitation film, a gritty, gory, scene-chewing romp that eschews taste in favor of fun. It’s the year 2000-something or other and as per usual the world is a horrible, radiated wasteland. America is an unliveable desert outside of the 800-million person, East Coast spanning Mega City One – the last remnants of what one might call “humanity.” Amidst the crime, drug-addiction, and gang violence of the New World, only one troop of lawmakers strive to make a difference – The Judges. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the Michael Jordan of Judges and when he’s assigned a beautiful, psychic rookie on her first day (Olivia Thirlby) things, as they should, go terribly terribly wrong. Trapped inside a sealed building with a near-army of gang members looking to kill them, the duo must, well, kill people in awesome ways and escape. Dredd 3D isn’t a subtle film. Urban’s take on the iconic, and strangely beloved comic book hero, is pretty much “I growl everything I say and kill things violently.” Very few shades of character development exist – the bad guys are very very bad, the good guys … well also pretty bad – and the story amounts to Die Hard In The Future With A Cool Gun That Shoots Magic Bullets. And where most films would be hampered by this sort of lack, Dredd 3D revels in it. The seemingly miniscule budget hangs on to the tattered film of every scene (lots and lots of super close-ups, a singular setting, an at times baffling use of green screen) but Pete Travis takes what he has and runs with it. The near two hour running time of Dredd 3D is almost entirely sneered one-liners and well-played violence but in the hands of a talented, and dare I say original director, it hurtles along with the type of verve you don’t see so much in action flicks anymore. Travis is clearly the child of 80s action and Dredd 3D pulses with right-wing male machismo. If you’d snuck in the back door of your local movie theater in 1989 and Dredd 3D had been melting the screen in front of you, you’d have been pleased, pleasantly surprised even. It isn’t high art (whatever the fuck that is) but it’s good, solid fun turned up a notch by a director’s clear, gritty vision.
Not to ramble, but Hollywood needs more films like Dredd 3D. It needs more action, adaptation or not, fueled by a passion for the subject and a yen to make something that isn’t slick, polished shit populated with big names and bad scripts. The Hollywood Blockbuster used to mean something, but today, diluted by an excessive season and a knowledge that our cultural mileau is the equivalent of a stale beer puddle, it’s shit. Give more Pete Travis’s a chance to spice it up though, and we might, just maybe have a renaissance on our hands.