A wickedly dark comic streak breaks up the vivid violence and relentless bleakness of Dredd 3D.
The action extravaganza from director Pete Travis and writer Alex Garland, based on the cult-favorite British comic series 2000 A.D., offers a fully realized world with both intensity and tension.
But after about an hour the claustrophobia of it all — the dreary, concrete sameness and the overpowering electronic score — feels smothering and grows tiresome. Maybe that’s the point, though: to wear us down.
The visceral visuals, shot in 3-D by Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire cinematographer and frequent Lars Von Trier collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle, feature extreme close-ups and sequences of super-cool slow-motion photography, which wisely are spread sparingly throughout the course of the picture.
Karl Urban stars as the stoic Judge Dredd, the baddest of them all in a dystopian future where enforcers like him serve as judge, jury and executioner, right on the spot. Dredd is the most fearsome of the judges in the squalid, densely populated Mega City One.
Olivia Thirlby, best known for indies and comedies such as Juno, has a calm yet confident presence as the rookie Judge Anderson.
Dredd and Anderson respond to a gory triple homicide at a 200-story ghetto tower ruled from on high by the ruthless prostitute-turned-drug-lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, her beautiful features disfigured by a severe facial scar).
When the judges take one of her lieutenants into custody as a suspect (Wood Harris, best known as Avon Barksdale from The Wire), Ma-Ma puts the whole place on lockdown and insists she’ll keep it that way until someone shoots the judges dead.
Many of the residents are happy to do her bidding because a) they’re deathly afraid of her and b) she’s got them hooked on a powerful drug called Slo-Mo, which reduces the sensation of reality to 1 percent of its usual speed. These moments make Dredd 3D stand out visually from so many other movies, whether they’re action flicks or drug films.
Oversaturated and finely detailed, the Slo-Mo sequences are mesmerizing for their richly colored and radiantly sparkling beauty — and again, Travis doesn’t overdo them, which is key.
Hardcore fans of the comic who hated the jokey 1995 Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone as the title character and featuring Rob Schneider, won’t just be relieved to see this incarnation. They’ll be downright giddy.