If Dredd came out when I was 12 it would have instantly become my favorite movie of all time. Dredd kicks ass and takes names for 95 lightning quick minutes. There really isn’t anything to dislike about this ultra-violent piece of slick science fiction.
The movie economically introduces its futuristic universe and monosyllabic title character. In a brief bit of voice over, Karl Urban (Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings) explains the particulars of Mega-City One. Over population and rampant crime have led to the Judges: special cops who can sentence and execute on the spot. Urban’s Judge Dredd is the most relentlessly badass in the city. He’s terse, tough, and really funny in a “just murdered a bunch of thugs without blinking” kind of way.
After a thrilling opening chase, Dredd is assigned a rookie to assess, Olivia Thirlby’s Anderson. She isn’t quite Judge material but the higher-ups want to keep her around for her psychic abilities. Gee, I wonder if those will come in handy later? Though the city is massive, the movie narrows its focus to one gargantuan tower block, where the Judges are called to investigate three dead bodies and wind up in an all out war with a hooker turned drug lord, Ma-Ma, played by a detached and vicious Lena Headey.
The trapped Judges spend the rest of the movie fighting to survive Ma-Ma’s hordes. Dredd straight up kills a lot of people and Anderson does likewise having learned from the master. The body count is ridiculous, and a lot of it is captured in gorgeous slo-mo by cinematographer extraordinaire Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire, Antichrist). The 3D is solid throughout, but becomes truly special during these extended slo-mo scenes. The gore-ific mayhem avoids repetition by changing up the stakes and inventing many new ways for Dredd to kill people. I am particularly fond of Dredd’s special gun settings: “high-ex” and “incendiary.”
Urban and Thirlby have a relaxed chemistry that works well. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) and screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine) wisely avoid turning Anderson into a love interest or a meek victim. Meanwhile, Urban is a blast without ever taking his helmet off. He creates a hardcore badass but gives him just enough humanity that he’s not just a robot.
This is ultimately the film’s subtle theme, futility. A few rare shots of the expansive Mega-City reinforce this idea. The Judges can’t possibly stop all that crime and Ma-Ma knows she can’t possibly take over the city either. While no one man should have all that power, criminals like Ma-Ma won’t stop, so neither will Dredd.
But that’s really just food for thought. The real joy of the movie is the action. It might have some kind of record for blood spilled and killer one-liners. I’m not 12 anymore, but damn this was a great time at the movies.