Though it should be obvious to the intrepid filmgoer, pretentiousness should be avoided when enjoying motion pictures (and reading literature). So often can one be abhorrently judgmental to the tastes of mainstream audiences that your enjoyment of well-crafted entertainment can be compromised. Such is the case for Pete Travis's excellent film, Dredd 3D. It's one of those films you could so easily dismiss by glancing at its emblematic poster for presumably mindless action. But you'd be doing your movie night a disservice with such premature judgement. You see, as hard as is it to imagine, every once and a while an action movie miraculously sneaks through Hollywood unblemished. And here we have one that is savage, comic, and unabashedly strutting in B-movie glory. It shines with future-smacking dissolution and hard-boiled totalitarianism mockery.
So, does it matter what the film is about? Likely not, but the plot isn’t half bad. Narcotic gangsters of a broken future American city - one in which 800 million people live in the ironic sanctuary of a megalopolis, barring exit to the grand post-apocalyptic wasteland -- trap two of the film's law enforcement agents inside an immense, towering residential complex. The place is like a decaying, hell-spawn version of a futuristic Mall of America. It is here that the stage is set for our heroes to evade annihilation by every malevolent being in the building. The heroes of this grim world are heavy-leather garbed law enforcement agents equipped with an all-in-one super pistol. No need for elaboration on the costumes or weaponry, because it doesn't matter. It just works. (Lucas, take note, you fool.) Their hard-lined perspective on world order is enough to garner the backing of the audience, I presume. I mean, they operate as judge, jury, and executioner -- what's not to like?
Dialogue is spartan, and holy shit does it feel perfect in its minimal fulfillment for this kind of action flick. The sets and characters inhabiting the world are also top-notch -- they function just right, whereby we can unobtrusively understand the complications of this future populace, the buckling of an over-saturated city, the poverty, the crime, the instability. Whether it's being prophetic or cheeky, it doesn't matter; it's fluid world building that doesn't get in the way of the narrative, and doesn't digress into any political shenanigans.
The film speeds along to a crunching soundtrack and competently-executed scenes. This is important: here's an action film that finally isn't shot with maddening quarter-second cuts and drunken hand-held camera men. You have no idea just how relieving this is in 2012.
Now, what could be potentially off-putting is that Dredd’s viewing is required in 3D. At first, this is an annoyance, especially when I've long held to the opinion that 3D is the bane of this new era in moviemaking. But Dredd 3D follows in the footsteps of Prometheus whereby the extra dimensionality is smartly employed. It is actually better used in Dredd 3D -- almost, dare I say, to the brilliance of Wizard of Oz's use of color 73 years ago -- through the film world's inventive drug, "slow-mo" (with which its users experience life at one percent speed). When the drug is used in the film, color saturation and details intensify on the screen in ultra-slow motion (my guess is they used the Phantom camera and shot at 1,000+ frames per second). Travis cleverly uses these opportunities for grand action sequences, ones that end in bloody splashes of rainbow-blasted brutality. Only with 3D do you feel the extra punctuality of the scenes, so much so that watching it without glasses would be a disservice to the film’s integrity.
I would call Dredd 3D a film with self-actualization: it is completely conscious of itself but never stands still to explain itself to the audience. It just keeps moving. And so it's enormously enjoyable as an action-blockbuster that requires very little thinking but plenty of genre appreciation. Perhaps the film is so enjoyable because we forget how nice it is to watch something like this; it’s been so long since we've have a fun spectacle that isn't stupid that we welcome it heartily, no questions asked. So: see it.