Based on the very popular and long-running British comic strip, Dredd 3D is fuelled by highfalutin’ violence, nonstop gunfire, and hyper-stylized 3D action sequences. However, any creativity that went into formulating the premise never found its way to the script-writing stage. There isn’t much plot — or even stakes, for that matter. Never once do we sense our titular hero, nor his rookie sidekick is ever in any danger. Everyone is disposable; citizens are mowed down by bullets and nobody cares. So why should we?
As in The Raid: Redemption, the majority of the pic takes place within a high rise building that has been co-opted by gangsters. Dredd is an American law enforcement officer trapped inside and forced to infiltrate his way to the 200th floor to take out the chief bad guy, a strange dame named Ma-Ma, played with over-the-top zest by Lena Headey. The first 30 minutes or so of Dredd is an electrifyingly kinetic and frenetic action flick stacked with a need-for-speed car chase, but once the cops are locked into fighting their way out of the block, the film simply becomes a series of over-the-top moments. Whereas The Raid kept the action nonstop, fresh, and exciting, showcasing some of the finest martial arts sequences since Fist of Legend, Dredd isn’t anything more than gun shot after gun shot. We basically sit and watch Dredd for 95 minutes either dodging bullets or sheltering himself from bullets. Even worse, Ma-Ma is so insignificant — and their final confrontation so anti-climatic — that it leaves us wondering how such a nondescript criminal could even come into power. There’s a serious disappointment here.
Screenwriter and producer Alex Garland is no stranger to dystopian sci-fi pictures, having previously scripted 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go. Those movies have characters, story, plots, and heart, all of which is sorely lacking in this adaptation.
Dredd is less a character than an image. Karl Urban, stuck throughout the entire film acting from beneath a helmet, plays the hero: a cop, judge, jury, and executioner. His jaw and mouth remain visible, but his eyes are hidden beneath a visor, limiting his performance and masking any bit of charisma until Urban is left delivering hissed one-liners in a scratchy monotone fashion (and yes, I know that is how the character is like in the comic, but it doesn’t translate well to the big screen). Then there is Olivia Thirlby, an actress who thankfully doesn’t wear a helmet because it would interfere with her character’s psychic abilities. Sadly, she’s left to carry the entire emotional weight of the film. Another disappointment.
Visually, Dredd is impressive, and the deadpan humour helps inject some life into the one dimensional characters. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, a key player in contemporary digital aesthetics, adds a slightly artistic edge to the proceedings and the throbbing score helps elevate the action. But Dredd is a one night stand, beautiful but dull, and not something you’ll ever need to see again. When the credits roll, you can be forgiven a sense of dissatisfaction because unlike classics such as John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, there’s no personality here – and guys like Karl Urban don’t hold a candle to the likes of Kurt Russell. Thus the major problem with action movies post 1990: There are no iconic characters like Snake Plissken. Dredd 3D did receive critical acclaim and yes, it is better than its predecessor, but that isn’t saying much.
Much like Dredd 3D, The Raid is built on a simple premise: a group of police officers in Jakarta invade an apartment complex belonging to a major gangster who lives on the top floor and electronically monitors all activity going on down below. The storyline is straightforward, and the movie doesn’t waste any time getting bogged down with either deep character development or exposition. There are good guys and bad guys, and 131 minutes of virtually nonstop action-packed martial arts mayhem. The particular martial art on display here is the Indonesian form known as pencak silat; simply put, it is breathtaking to watch.
The Raid, which won the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award, is one long adrenaline rush. In his third outing, the Welsh-born Evans shows that he is a master at directing action. The chaos is brutal, bloody, and virtually nonstop, while the fight scenes, which comprise most of the running time, are long, violent, and presented without the use of shaky cam, CGI magic, nor quick cutting. Evans has an especially good understanding of how to choreograph and stage these fights, and we always have a clear view of what is going on. Characters stab, punch, and kick their way up and down the stairs — through the corridors, through the ceilings, and even through the walls of the building. In one of the film’s many highlights, a character marches on with a jagged segment of a broken fluorescent tube sticking out of his neck. In another memorable scene, the main character, Rama, hides in a closet with his wounded colleague while a thug repeatedly drives a machete through the wall, slicing its way just past his face. The story might be thin, but The Raid is a knockout low-budget action spectacle, expertly paced and edited for maximum enjoyment.
– Ricky D