10 October 2012

Dredd 3D Review

Character development is an interesting thing - whilst it's more or less essential for making a movie whose timeline encompasses the passing of a few weeks or months, what if a movie takes place more-or-less in real time? Can character development be sidelined in favour of character presentation? Can we get to know and even like a character based purely on their actions within a certain scenario?

'Yes', is the reverberating answer that Dredd 3D tries to drill into you like a slow-motion bullet to the brainpan, and ultimately, it's quite successful. It's intriguing and exciting to see a comic-book movie that is not overly concerned about extolling an origin for its primary protagonist, instead opting for exploring the characters by having them react to a scenario, all of which is set up in a swift and elegant first 10 minutes.

For those of you unfamiliar with Judge Dredd - and to be fair, I was hardly what one might refer to as an expert - he, and his fellow Judges, are the logical extreme of the American system of law. Judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one, Judges are empowered to apply the law as and when they see fit in the MegaCities of the future that serve as their jurisdiction. In one such MegaCity - where crime and drug abuse are rampant - Judge Dredd and his fresh-out-of-the-academy partner Judge Anderson are called to a triple homocide in a tower block - and whilst murder is never simple, these get particularly complicated particularly quickly.

What follows this set-up is more or less 80 minutes of action, with a few stops for breath. It's beautifully filmed and directed, and whilst the 3D can feel a little perfunctory for the majority of the movie, there are a handful of moments that do make it worth sitting with those awful glasses on your face - not that you have much of a choice in the matter, if you wish to see the movie, given that there's no 2D release.

However, any sequence which involves the MacGuffin narcotic 'Slo-Mo' is a treat, with the water droplets and shards of glass suspended amid over-saturated, prismatic colours, that quickly drop back to the dull grey of the unenhanced world. It elicits a modicum of sympathy for the characters that do use it - it's a way for them to escape their colourless existence in what may well be the closest thing to an actual Hell on Earth.

The action packs a fairly meaty punch, too, with visceral slow-motion shots of bullets entering faces, chests, legs and other appendages from a variety of angles. There's some grim satisfaction, as well as mild horror to be had here, and the efficiency with which Dredd cleans up the bad guys is both impressive and a little unsettling, with the more tactical set pieces unfolding at such a blistering pace, and yet precise, technically accomplished camera allows the audience to keep up with it beat for beat.

Performance-wise, there're no weak links. Karl Urban - or at least, Karl Urban's face from the nose down - is great as Dredd, all dogged surliness and pinpoint markmanship. He also gets the best lines in the film, and delivers them with a snarl that is pitch perfect to the character. The lion's share of the character development goes to Olivia Thrilby as Judge Anderson, and she does a convincing job of finding the grey areas in Dredd's black and white morality. Lena Headley is quietly menacing as the primary antagonist Ma-Ma, and a slew of strong bit players help to create a convincing world of rather facistic oppression.

It sags a coupled of times between action sequences, and there's not as much satire as one might've hoped for, with Alex Garland himself admitting that the script was written as a wide-eyed teenager might interpret the character and world. It's still funny, but in a badass, one-liner way rather than as a skewering of the establishment. But given its strengths, it's easy to forgive the film for these minor blemishes.

Considering that Dredd 3D has next to no introduction to its characters, and even less by way of a plot - we're talking less plot points than Star Wars, here - it's genuinely surprising that not only is it quite enjoyable - in a darkly humourous, action-packed way - but thoroughly so, with slick direction, great performances and a fantastic script that characterises through action, not prevarication. A sequel needs to be earned, so go see it!

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