“Dredd 3D” fails to live up to hype

By Paul Bagnall

No one is above the law, especially not in the dystopian setting of Mega City One in the newly released “Dredd 3D.”

Directed by Peter Travis, this adaptation of the 1995 “Judge Dredd” tries to amp up the story with more violence and special effects, but lacks in storyline and characterization.

Dredd (Karl Urban) gets teamed up with a new rookie partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who is a mutant with psychic powers. Dredd, not convinced Anderson’s up to the challenge of being a Judge, decides to take her under his wing. He allows her to make some decisions in order to test her

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abilities as a Judge, but plays the role as both a partner and mentor.

The duo investigates a murder at Peach Trees Apartments where they are introduced to the villainess Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who’s taken control over the building.   with 200 floors of suspects to choose from. Ma-Ma, a drug lord, mass produces “SLO-MO”, a substance that makes time slow down dramatically for the user. During the investigation of the murder the Judges capture Ma-Ma’s subordinate Kay (Wood Harris), and fearing the Judges will discover her operation through Kay, Ma-Ma locks down the building, sending an army of thugs to kill the Judges for her.

One of the major problems with the film is lack of characterization. This movie fails because it doesn’t take any time with its characters.  Viewers know nothing about Judge Dredd or his past, a topic the 1995 version shed some light on.  The writers provide the audience with a simple briefing on Dredd, his token rookie partner Anderson and Ma-Ma.

Travis’ version of the movie leaves holes in Dredd’s past. Without an exploration into his back story, nor the stories or inclusion of other characters such as his insane brother Rico who framed him for murder, the plot holes in “Dredd” leave audiences confused.

Fans of the Dredd comics will already know his back-story, but new comers to the series who haven’t seen the 1995 “Judge Dredd” or read the comics will be lost. Karl Urban’s take on Dredd is a brooding, hateful version compared to the Stallone’s 1995 counterpart. Dredd  feels more like a sinister Robocop than a human fighting for a good cause.

Another problem is the villain Ma-Ma. She’s not a very good antagonist because of the lame decisions she makes throughout the movie. She has a whole army and 200 floors of the Peach Trees Tower under her control, yet she doesn’t use it to her advantage. Some of Ma-Ma’s tactics are  questionable, leading her to be easily sabotaged and further distancing herself as an accomplished villainess. The writers have Ma-Ma make all the wrong decisions just so Dredd can ascend towards her, a cheesy tactic that is blatantly obvious to the viewers.

The setting of Mega City One is not nearly as present as in the 1995 film. While in the previous version, the city was the heart and soul of the crime infested world, the 2012 version glosses over the city, and fails to show the importance of judges in Mega City One.

The “SLO-MO” drug is basically a tool for director Pete Travis to use as an excuse for slow motion in the movie. Every time someone uses “SLO-MO”, an action scene follows. While fun to look at with some descent cinematography, it does make the contained world of the Peach Trees more interesting. However, the use of the effect still doesn’t deter the audience from the staleness of the one building setting.

The weight of the movie’s violence bogs down the plot with a few dozen bloodied corpses serving mostly as shock value rather than telling the story. The 1995 “Judge Dredd” was violent, but didn’t play any of it for shock value, whereas the new film seems to be using the violence as a tactic for viewer attention.

Dredd 3D fails to capture the futuristic setting that the 1995 version set up for audiences, leaving viewers wishing for more. The average cinematography and overuse of the visualization of SLO-MO serve as a double whammy distracting audiences from the action. The film should have focused more on the characters and less on the special effects for the action scenes. As a result, Dredd 3D gets a failing grade at the Judges Academy.

Paul Bagnall can be reached at [email protected]