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HomeBlogPopcorn Parent Movie ReviewsFamily Movie Review: Dredd 3D (R)

Family Movie Review: Dredd 3D (R)

Dredd3DFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): half-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: R     Length: 95 minutes

Not appropriate for children under 17. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how intensely violent this movie is. Nearly every scene is marinated in blood-spattering, flesh-pulverizing violence. Human heads fair particularly poorly—the movie never met a cranium it didn’t want to crack, crush, puncture or incinerate. There are also sexual situations, some nudity, profanity and drug use.

Yeah, Judge Dredd is The Law, but Dredd 3D is a crime against humanity. Bleak, soulless and ultraviolent, it’s little more than a meat grinder with a soundtrack.

By Jared Peterson

This carnage is, apparently, par for the course in Mega City One, a sprawling urban hellscape combining the worst features of Mexico City and Detroit, multiplied by 100 (and minus trees and good music).

Outside its massive walls are the remains of a world scorched by nuclear war; inside, the city oozes pollution, gridlock, human misery and crime, lots and lots of crime. In response, the criminal justice system has been compressed to its essentials. Heavily armed cops known simply as Judges capture, try and punish offenders in one swift, convenient swoop.

Judge Dredd (played by a helmet, but with a supporting role for the stubbly jaw of Kiwi actor Karl Urban) is the meanest, growliest and best judge in the city. His moral code is fixed and immovable; he quotes the law chapter and verse then dispenses summary justice at the end of his high-tech gun. Put simply, he is not the guy you want to see strolling up to you in your side-view mirror. In a typical Training Day conceit, the film follows Dredd and Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, best known as Ellen Page’s mouthy best friend in Juno), a greenhorn recruit with an unlikely quirk (she’s a psychic) to make her useful and the bare minimum of conscience (she’s an orphan) to make her the “good cop” in their duo. When the two respond to a gruesome homicide in one of the city’s massive housing blocks, a local drug lord, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), locks the building down and systematically hunts the officers through its dank corridors. Massive collateral damage ensues.

Developed in Britain in the ’70s and ’80s by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, the Judge Dredd comic books presented a jaundiced European critique of the American moral decay similar to that of the dark, subversive Watchmen graphic novel (which recently received its own gritty film adaptation). Zach Snyder’s Watchmen film looks at where we were (it takes place in an alternate 1987) and deconstructs what we revered (’40’s superheroes and the vigilantes they stooped to become). But Dredd shows no interest in examining the Judge system and its implications. Rather than constituting an effective allegory, its future imperfect is nothing but a backdrop against which to stage endless variations of violent death.

All this is doubly disappointing because Dredd was crafted by some capable hands. Director Pete Travis ably strung together the threads of the 2008 thriller Vantage Point, and writer Alex Garland penned tense and engaging screenplays for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Sunshine. They make no attempt to peel the layers of this hell; their sole interest seems to be in tricking out the hand basket. For instance, Ma-Ma’s product, the narcotic SLO-MO, makes time feel as though it’s passing at one 100th its normal pace. Why people would pay money to slow down their bleak, downtrodden existences is a mystery. Narratively, the drug’s real purpose is to add an extra layer of torture to the murders of several characters, making their deaths as aesthetically rapturous and painfully slow as a Terrence Malick movie.

Furthermore, the film disintegrates the boundaries of what’s appropriate to show happening to a human body. The badguys skin people, gouge their eyes and unleash minutes-long volleys of machine gun fire that tear apart dozens of innocents. Judge Dredd is only slightly more discerning. With a word to his voice-activated Lawgiver pistol, he’ll fire a round that’ll melt a man’s head from the inside or take it clean off. This isn’t gun opera—it’s bullet porn, and it’s uncomfortable at best and demoralizing and desensitizing at worst.

Fans of the Dredd character and franchise were quick to dismiss the 1995 iteration starring Sylvester Stallone. A near universal complaint among fanboys was the audacity of allowing him to remove his helmet and show glimmers of a second, if not a third, dimension—things we’re told the stern peacemaker of the comics would never do. This time, Dredd is practically a robot, a vending machine of bloody justice. Anderson is supposed to be the conscience, but she’s barely there. Psychic yet unfeeling, green but hardly squeamish, her transformation from newbie to badass is a lateral movie at best. If this version cleaves closer to the source material, it is at the expense of any perspective or human drama.

The only moral compass at work in the Dredd experience will be the one audience members bring with them—and one can only hope they leave with it intact. With its intensity of violence and narrowness of vision, Dredd may, and probably should, alienate more mainstream audiences. But I’d say that even discerning sci-fi fans—and, especially, any and all young people—should steer clear as well. Leave this one to the diehards.

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