What would it be like to observe someone fall 200 stories in slow motion if you were the floor they land on? This is one of the important questions addressed by Dredd 3D, the latest attempt to bring a comic book icon to the big screen.
Long on graphic depictions of violence (how many different ways can you blow a man’s head off?) but short on originality, Dredd 3D takes place in a distopic future where it seems that our current economic and environmental policies have condemned our descendents to live in a sort of hyper East LA. As police, judge and executioner, Dredd (Karl Urban looking shell-shocked under a perma-helmet) has the combined power of all three branches of our current government, and like many campaign donors, he is not required to reveal his identity. Ghetto block justice replaces frontier justice as Dredd and his psychic protégé (Olivia Thirlby who isn't given the opportunity to hide behind a mask) deal out life and death sentences and then summarily carry them out with their voice-activated Swiss Army side arms. Or maybe he has an iPhone25.
Things start out all guts and gory but then go downhill from there as the Dredds capture a key member of a mob boss Ma-Ma’s (Lena Headey wearing her scars quite well, thank you) drug ring and rather than just dispensing their justice on the spot (why not here, why not now?) they threaten to take him back to headquarters for further questioning. Oh what secrets he’ll reveal! This can’t be allowed by Ma-Ma and she proceeds with a lockdown of her own, sealing off the 200 story building with mega blast doors and blocking all transmissions. This of course is not as big a deal in this future distopia than the secret Ma-Ma wants to keep: she has a new Slo-Mo drug to bring to market. Yes, taking over an entire apartment block will definitely attract less attention. What’s a Judge to do? With no access to the Law Enforcers’ iCloud and running low on ammunition, it’s survival of the Dreddest.
This type of gritty cell block paranoia was handled better in Attack the Block which at least had a sense of humor. As other reviewers have noted, much of the same ground was covered to better effect in the recent Indonesian film The Raid: Redemption. If it’s true that science fiction is written to prevent the future rather than to predict it, Dredd 3D gives us a solid case against future sequels.