Dredd, unfettered by philosophical complication, reads as follows: Bad-ass futuristic cop trapped with rookie in building full of remorseless criminals. Will he get out alive? And will the rookie not just survive but pass her impromptu on-the-job initiation exam?
Simple story, still enjoyable.
Yes, the plot has similar overtones to the imported “The Raid” (despite the fact that “Dredd” actually went through a number of drafts before “The Raid” even got made.) And the original Judge Dredd with Stallone back in the 1990’s didn’t exactly win any awards. And the villain here (the notorious Ma-Ma) was a bit understated, even if ruthless by the atrocities she orders her hirelings to commit; a more rated-R-bordering-on-NC17 tallywhacking cluster of scalliwags doesn’t exist on this side of the virtual ghetto.
One of the most interesting aspects of Dredd was the character development of the rookie, a budding telepath without proper combat training who passes from soft-skinned naivety to a fully fledged “don’t f*** with me, mofo” mindset in the space of eight hours. The change isn’t just imagined, you can actually observe it, especially in the scenes she shares inside the heads of the crooks she’s forced to confront. She’s tougher than you might expect at first glance.
The other interesting angle was the SloMo drug, which is more than just a trip, it’s a stretched-out sparkly ride into the depths of a mental black hole that makes even one’s impending demise seem wondrous, like riding a demonic blood-guzzling unicorn spraying clouds of stardust and black powder. The movie is filmed in such a way that we experience these moments along with the characters; it’s about as good a trip as you can take without shooting up yourself.
For a drama, there might not be substantial meat on the bones, but for an action movie, it’s more than enough to lend some depth to the grit and grime of Mega-City One.
Urban’s done solid work in action movies (Riddick, Bourne, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings), and he’s just as capable here of believably taking and dishing out punishment as he was in “Red.” He manages to pull off Dredd while showing only his lower face — not the easiest job for an actor, especially one who is substantially easy on the eyes and might be tempted to coast at times. Stripped down to the basics, his version of Dredd is capable, unruffled, pragmatic, remorseless. Even the rasp of a voice works better for him here than for Bale’s Bruce Wayne, creating legitimate unease in the viewer rather than a plethora of snide fanboy comments on the Internet.
If this cop pulled you over for a ticket, you wouldn’t try to talk your way out; in fact, it would be advised to just keep your hands on the wheel and do everything he tells you. In this world, Dredd is literally judge, jury, and executioner.