It’s a fucked-up world. And Mega-City One is a fucked-up place full of fucked-up criminals. And the Hall of Justice is the last bastion of order and maybe—peace. Or so they thought. This is the world where Judges exist, where Judge Dredd exists, where Judges roam the street and play judge, jury, and executioner.
Armed with the Lawgiver, a deadly toy gun with voice-activated ammunition system, Judges are futuristic comic-book Dirty Harrys brought to life. They’re also clad in bulky armor and helmet that conceals the face except for the mouth and chin—in Dredd’s case, Karl Urban’s capably expressive and Oscar-winning chin—except for the probationary rookie (Olivia Thirlby), the mutant-psychic who left her helmet on her first day on duty. She also deems the helmet would get in the way of her telepathic powers, to which Dredd’s dead-pan reply is: Think a bullet in the head might interfere with them more.
Which would have been a pity, not seeing Olivia Thirlby’s pretty face in a movie inhabited by one-liner mouthing chins and degenerate criminals addicted to Slo’ Mo, a narcotic drug that slows down time to 1% of one. Unlike in the Stallone movie, there are other Judges aside from Dredd, in case you don’t know.
Unlike some terrible looking comic-book movies (most of DCEU outputs, Marvel’s Civil War) Dredd has a lavish comic book-look (i.e., convincing CGI despite its meager budget), a believable lived-in world, and its own comic book logic. Most important of all, it embraces its own silliness. Whereas Civil War is all concrete gray and dull blue, Dredd is in full color, all dirt, blood and concrete, with a painfully detailed and dazzling slow motion sequence to visualize Slo’ Mo-high. And unlike, say, Sin City or Batman V. Superman, Dredd’s not dead from the waist down, there’s kinetic energy that powers its plot. Alex Garland and Pete Travis’ futuristic world is decadent and grim, but the movie is not uber-serious nor full of self-importance. There’s a careful balance between gore, wit, humor, and violence, and its huge body count.
Mostly for better than for worse, Dredd is faithful to the comics, keeping its characters strictly two dimensional, including Dredd and Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the scarred and tough as nails crime boss of Peach Trees. Karl urban’s Judge Dredd isn’t saddled with backstory it doesn’t need—he’s just bad-ass, kind of old fashioned (fascist?) anti-hero, which is all he needs to be. But amidst all these cartoon-y characters, there’s just enough of backstory, character arc, and one deadly roundhouse kick in Thirlby’s Judge Anderson, the audience’s surrogate and the movie’s moral compass.
At 90 minutes, Dredd is like a three-chord punk rock middle finger to the prog-like and ponderous tendencies of some comic book movies. It’s only unfortunate that it was released in the same year Marvel’s The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man came out. Some of the action may border on the cursory, but there’s enough silly one-liners (I am the Law. Choke on this. Are you kidding me? Did you just say, “Wait”? Judge Dredd – THE Judge Dredd – finally gets on the wrong end of a gun and all he says is, “Wait.”) and enough awesome sequence to fuel the whole movie: the “Hotshot” hostage sequence early in the movie, the assault using Vulcan cannons, the corrupt Judges vs. Dredd, and last but not the least, Judge Anderson kicking serious ass. And nothing’s more outrageously subversive, than the part when Ma-Ma’s fail-safe plan ultimately fails, and Dredd just looks at the camera and says “Yeah.”