Another adaptation of a Y2K comic book character, an elliptically gruff one at that, turns out to be far better than an earlier one starring Sylvester Stallone, Diane Lane and Armand Assante. One that treats its antecedent (and an audience for that matter) with a certain amount of respect given the grim nature of the material. If you've seen The Raid from earlier this year, Pete Travis's British sci-fi picture may not be as action-packed, yet it is fairly thrilling in its own right.
Dredd 3D stars Karl Urban (Red, Star Trek), Olivia Thirlby (The Darkest Hour) and Lena Headey, and is set in the near future in a vast East Coast metropolis - Mega City One where the police have authority to be "judge, jury, and be an instant executioner." Urban's eponymous law enforcement official is a Judge taking a psychic tyro, Thirlby's Anderson, out to determine if she has what it takes to fit this elite group.
In an irradiated setting as Anderson is shown the ropes by her mentor, both are trapped in a tremulous high-rise situation thanks to those handling a dangerous mind-control narcotic 'Slo-Mo' under the auspices of the vicious Ma-Ma (Headey of St. Trinians and 300). The pared-down, gritty stylishness gets more edgy once a helmeted Dredd and Anderson know their claustrophobic situation tightens up thanks to Ma-Ma's dogged underlings deigned to off them at once.
Given his appearance, Urban bellows his way with lower oral contortions to favorably evoke what readers remember and like even if the vocal intonations are clearly reminiscent of a famous Christian Bale character that somehow connects with what the punishing, unswervingly dedicated character is going through. Opposite him, Thirlby holds her own as the pressured rookie and Headey is more of a heady, restrained villain than usual to give the distress more of an authentic feel.
Travis works very honorably with his production team (including striking visual effects units for the desired format) to create some sharp, if starkly sanguine-filled set-pieces, among the effective depth shots in conjunction with a noticeably exquisite overall design. Where this Dredd trips up is the extreme slow-motion-ness of 'Slo-Mo,' even where the potent drug isn't concerned. But, even with an erratic overdose like this, it would be fatal to judge this violent, heavy effects sci-fi adventure as less than a swiftly legitimate viscerally felt adventure that doesn't rely on parody or backstory. Just as laconic and focussed as the multitasking judge himself.