Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby. Written by Alex Garland. Directed by Pete Travis. 18A. 95 min. Opens Sept. 21.
His face almost entirely obscured by the helmet typically worn by the motorcycle-riding Judges who police the Mega-Cities in a post-apocalyptic America, Dredd 3D’s Karl Urban gives the greatest jaw-only screen performance since Peter Weller in RoboCop. Any similarities between our hero here and that cyborg lawman are not accidental. First introduced in the late ’70s in the British science-fiction comic 2000 A.D., Judge Dredd was a major inspiration for Paul Verhoeven’s man of steel. Alas, RoboCop’s notoriety hurt the original model’s chances for a screen career—previous to Dredd 3D, his only big-screen appearance was in an abysmal 1995 vehicle for Sylvester Stallone.
Thankfully, this revamp is smart and slick enough to please Dredd fans and neophytes alike. Directed by Pete Travis and written by Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later…), Dredd 3D is set in a squalid high rise where Dredd and his rookie partner, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), are trapped and hunted by a vicious crime clan led by a not-so-motherly matriarch named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).
Many obscene displays of firepower in dark hallways ensue, though the Dredd 3D team—which also includes Slumdog Millionaire cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle—is largely able to avoid the clichés of today’s most gun-crazy thrillers. In other words, only some parts look like a first-person-shooter videogame. Better yet, the rest of it actually feels like a movie, one that benefits greatly from dazzling design, some satisfyingly grisly ultra-violence, solid performances, and the wry humour that edges its way into Urban’s ever-stoic delivery.