In this case, Dredd succeeds where the 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd did not: ringing true to the roots and spirit of the UK-based comic — an anarchic, dystopian world. In doing so — you’re not missed, Rob Schneider — the action’s just way better, too.
Set in a future U.S., some 800 million people live in the ruins of the “old world,” all stretching from Boston to D.C., and known as Mega-City One. Cops are armored “judges,” and dispense punishments at the scene of the crime.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, Priest) is one of the best, and he’s asked to partner with Anderson, a clairvoyant rookie (Olivia Thirlby, The Darkest Hour), to see if she’s “judge” material. Anderson gets a trial by fire as she and Dredd get locked within Peachtrees, a real slum of a skyscraper standing more than 200 stories tall. It’s unofficially ruled by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, TV’s Game of Thrones), a scar-faced former hooker who orders her minions — and all other residents — to shoot to kill.
Nearly all of them are under Ma-ma’s spell because nearly all of them are under the influence of the illicit drug Slo-Mo, so named for its effect of convincing the brain that time is moving at a fraction of its actual speed — thus allowing director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) to break out a soap-bubble coloring palette when depicting its intoxicating effects.
Not wanting to become the punch line that Stallone’s version has (it recently was ridiculed in an hourlong episode of the hilarious How Did This Get Made? podcast), this Dredd does things differently, nearly all of them correct. Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland (Never Let Me Go) get right into the thick of things and stay there. At some point, such action becomes circular in nature, but doesn’t make so many rounds that your attention and enthusiasm dissipate to a detriment. Overall, this movie is better than you’d expect.
It’s too bad moviegoers didn’t take to this treatment, for whatever reason. I still think it has to do with an overall unfamiliarity with the character, which Lionsgate’s Blu-ray helps address with the nifty “Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd” featurette. The disc also offers two versions of the film, 3-D and flat; Travis’ visuals are strong enough that even flat looks fine. —Rod Lott
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