image credit: Lionsgate

Review: DREDD 3D (2012) *****

Dredd is an early-10s science fiction action movie where a post-nuclear war America has consolidated into a few metropolises, and most people live in giant towers, like whole cities in a skyscraper. Quality of life is real, real bad. A brutal policing force of Judges intervene with crime. They have the authority to judge and kill perpetrators on sight. Massive public car chases and shootouts are common. In this particular movie, Judge Dredd takes a trainee to answer a call, and things escalate.

This is based upon source material also adapted in an 80s movie with Sylvester Stallone, so if it sounds familiar, it should. 2000 AD is a comics classic.

Surely I could come up with involved, over-thinky commentary about how this satire of America’s punitive police-forward culture is just as much participating in the mythology of copaganda as it is criticizing it. Aside from the very fact they differentiate between good cops and bad cops, fundamentally misunderstanding ACAB, any movie that makes bad stuff look cool allows people to take the wrong message. See: terrible IRL cops idolizing The Punisher.

Dredd leaves much room for genuine idolization of this brutal police state. The creators’ intentions are coming from the right place; the observations are keenly made. It’s really more symptomatic of the policing culture’s greater issues that you can’t make a brutal, awful cop that cops won’t wanna mimic. I don’t want this kind of policing satire anymore, no matter how well it’s done. You know?

All that said, Dredd 3D is superlative on every other axis I care about. Imagine someone made a perfect adaptation of the *spirit* of 1990s Boomer Shooters (Doom, Hexen, Quake, et al) wearing the clothes of 2000 AD. That sort of dry action hero paired against absurd numbers of enemies, with a multi-functional gun that can shoot whatever you need (providing you conserved ammunition for the boss battle), and the floor-by-floor level design of Dredd feels like a much better adaptation of Duke Nukem 3D than we will ever see.

Alex Garland is behind the screenplay for Dredd 3D. Considering Garland’s fascinating relationship with feminine gender in Men and the highly metaphoric Annihilation, it makes sense to see him here: Ma-Ma and Anderson are two female characters written and played pitch-perfectly. Is it weird to say the movie Dredd simply doesn’t hate women? There is frank acknowledgment of female objectification in the story, but even visions of sexual violence against women are kept vague, and Ma-Ma declines to commit excessive violence against Anderson. It’s a show of ultimate respect that Ma-Ma simply wants Anderson dead. Not tortured, raped, or skinned–just a whole lotta bullets in the chest and the head. Now that’s feminism I can get behind.

Whenever I think of movies with fabulous editing, Dredd 3D is at the top. The score is kind of a minimal electronic drum-and-bass thing for the most part, but it’s unrelenting, and the dominance of the rhythm draws you from one cut to another with the breathless excitement of a music video. The pacing is outstanding.

Dredd’s also a shockingly beautiful movie, with shots that are like anti-aesthetic fine art. This is a movie celebrating the bright spatter of blood, the shock of angry scars on pallid flesh, and grunge dragged down stucco walls. SFX took great pride in showing every frame of bullets blasting through bodies. It will always hold the title of Best Movie Shown in 3D in Cinemas Ever, for me, because the sparkling slo-mo scenes are the single greatest usage of stereoscoping filming I’ve seen, and it’s almost as beautiful on my flat television.

None of it would be as sweet if Dredd didn’t have the most flawless action movie punchline known to mankind. With a crazy escalating level of violence endangering a city block’s worth of people (and then some), things feel huge. The stakes are big. Ma-Ma turns out to be a major source of criminality for all of Mega City One, and a lot of people die, and cops turn even more corrupt, and a drug lab gets destroyed. Yet the punchline is that this is just another day. Shrug. When he finally delivers “justice” upon the big bad, Dredd’s ready to go home to take a shower and sleep for the next one.


(image credit: Lionsgate)

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