Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey
Screenplay by Alex Garland
Directed by Pete Travis
Making my way to the Ryerson theatre 90 minutes before showtime, I could only mutter a few expletives under my breath as I realized that the line for the first Midnight Madness film, Dredd 3D, already wrapped around the corner of Gerrard and Church. I thought I was prepared to get back into the fray, but it looks like my tactics will need to be reevaluated. The Toronto International Film Festival can feel like a bit of a chore at times: buying tickets in the nick of the time, waiting in a massive line to pickup the tickets, standing in line for over an hour to get a good seat for a busy screening, but in the end it’s all worth it. This is the only time of the year that Hollywood actually comes to Toronto, and if you’re willing to shell out some cash, you can feel like part of the festivities and see some amazing movies in the process. Unfortunately, my own euphoric feelings toward the festival will have to be put on hold for 24 hours.
Having already waited in line for nearly an hour in order to secure what I had then determined would be a mediocre seat at best, a festival volunteer started making her rounds informing everyone that the screening of Dredd 3D would be delayed by at least 30 minutes due to a fairly large hiccup in the schedule earlier in the day. In actuality, it turned out to be delayed by an hour and midnight is the worst time for a delay of that magnitude if you would like your audience to stick around and actually be awake for the screening. But accidents occur, and I understand that, however the next issue seemed more like a slap to the face. Upon entering the theatre, I was very disappointed to see that over 200 seats had been comped and reserved for various VIPs – nine rows smack dab in the middle of the theatre! It felt wrong to relegate most of those who had paid for a ticket and waited since 10:00 – 10:30 to second tier seats, but maybe it wasn’t such a big deal for others. Fortunately, Colin Geddes did a marvelous job waking up the tired crowd and Dredd turned out to be a great way to kick off the madness.
Dredd 3D is, of course, about the iconic comic book hero Judge Dredd. Living in a dystopian future where small suburban residences have been replaced by massive towers which house thousands of citizens, the Judges from the Hall of Justice are the only ones still holding people accountable for their crimes – they are the law. Equipped with intimidating helmets and motorcycles, and a large handgun featuring a multitude of settings, ranging from basic bullets to an incendiary attack, the Judges may be few but they are certainly feared. As we join Judge Dredd (Urban), we are introduced to a new street drug, Slo-Mo, that has gone from making ripples to waves within the population of the city seemingly overnight. The drug affects the brain and seemingly slows down time to a crawl, not only that but it appears to be extremely addictive. Dredd and Anderson (Thirlby), an unlikely judge in training with some strange powers, investigate a triple homicide only to find themselves trapped in the heart of a Slo-Mo operation and severely outnumbered by the murderous MaMa (Headey) and her vicious thugs.
I went into Dredd 3D expecting a good time, but even then it still managed to pleasantly surprise me throughout. This was the first 3D movie to ever screen at Midnight Madness, and I’m sure there was a bit of trepidation amongst the crowd for this reason, but TIFF and the filmmakers really delivered. The glasses provided to the audience were of the highest quality, not those flimsy, collapsible ones that look like sunglasses. Also, although Dredd 3D did not always use the 3D effects to its advantage, there were some remarkable shots of the cityscape and dizzying shots from immense heights, so dizzying that I actually felt in personal danger for a couple of them. That was an amazing feeling to have while sitting in a cinema! Other 3D shots were a little uninspired at times, but at least they didn’t distract too much from the movie itself.
Urban was very entertaining as Dredd, and despite an odd vocal slip (a completely different voice for a few minutes early on), his version of Dredd was a treat to behold. Urban used what sounded like a toned down version of Bale’s Batman, with a few cartons of cigarettes added for the right degree of raspiness. The one-liners delivered by Urban were absolutely spot on most of the time, and when accompanied by Urban’s unwavering frown they were often downright hysterical. Thirlby did a decent job as Anderson, the fledgling Judge, while Headey seemed like she was going to deliver a deliciously evil performance early on, but for most of the movie seemed more like a Lannister (GoT) than a drug dealing kingpin.
Finally, the reason why people are going to be talking about this movie – the violence. Unless I missed something, I don’t think I’ve ever seen violence this visceral and this beautiful. Thanks to the the effects of the Slo-Mo drug, throughout Dredd we are often treated to slow-motion encounters between Judge Dredd and his hopped-up enemies. I don’t crave onscreen violence, but witnessing the amazing effects in Dredd 3D was nothing short of jaw dropping, or is that jaw exploding? My only criticism about Dredd 3D is that the action sequences are often a little uninspired, although they get pretty good towards the end of the movie. It feels like Judge Dredd just keeps pressing forward through hordes of bad guys, dispatching them easily with his devastating arsenal, however it would have been nice to have some exchanges with some actual gunfight choreography.
Dredd 3D was a great start to my personal TIFF schedule, but more importantly an amazing start for Midnight Madness. Anyone interested in dystopian futures, arsenals of weapons, amazing special effects, or Judge Dredd should under no circumstances miss this one.