At it's core, Dredd and the Judge Dredd comics has a simple idea. The world has gone to hell. Millions are living in Mega-City One, a city stretching from Boston to Washington D.C. Crime is rampant and it's up to the Judges to act as the authority and peacekeepers. They are the Law.
Some may recall the 1995 movie with Sylvester Stallone, Armand Asante and Rob Schneider. This movie does a great job to stay as far away from that movie as possible while doing its best to capture the true feel of grittiness and despair contained in the comics.
The story features Dredd (Karl Urban), the grizzled veteran Judge who is tasked to take out a rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), to give a final verdict on whether or not she is worthy of being a Judge. Anderson didn't meet all the requirements and test scores but is a 'mutie.' She has some psychic abilities which could prove valuable to a judge. They report to a multiple homicide call and soon find themselves locked in a 200 level apartment complex encompassing an entire city block and fighting against a cruel and vicious drug dealer, Ma-Ma, played by Lena Headey.
It sounds like a straight forward and simple plot. It is in many ways. The beauty is in the execution. The movie does a great job in the beginning setting up what this world is like and about. The entire film isn't contained in the city block as Dredd was previously involved in an intense car chase (with him on his motorcycle, of course). With the main part of the movie contained in the city block, it almost feels like there is an isolated feel but it does serve to draw focus to Dredd and his tactics. He's not a detective. Having him scour the land in pursuit of the bad guys isn't what he's about. The Judges respond to the calls and judge and sentence the perpetrators.
Even though Anderson is a character from the comics, I was leery of her presence in the movie. All too often, we know what happens when a male and female character are in the main roles of a movie. Thankfully, this movie doesn't try to accommodate the typical Hollywood stereotypes. She serves to give Dredd a voice. He has to explain things to her or present the question of what should be done since she is a rookie. Otherwise, Dredd wouldn't have much of a reason to talk. A movie with just him judging and sentencing criminals could be fun to see but there would be something lacking.
The movie is rated R with very good reasons. There is no shying away from the violence. It's possible it could be a turn off for some. But the nature of the characters and the world calls for this level of insane violence. The structure of the world is why there became a need for the judges to go out and be able to sentence someone to death on the spot. If anyone threatens a Judge or harms an innocent, you know their time on screen won't last long.
The death and violence scenes are done well. We actually see some unique deaths. There is that level of violence where you'll hear a lot of nervous laughing in the theater. There may even be moments you'll find yourself squinting your eyes and almost looking away to avoid what you know is coming. Of course if you're seeing this movie, you won't want to actually close your eyes to any of it.
The 3D is used well here. The big moments it shines is when the drug Ma-Ma is selling, Slo-Mo, is being used. Slo-Mo makes its users experience reality at an extremely slow pace. There are plenty of beautiful scenes where the action or events slow down and you can marvel at the look of the 3D. Is it really necessary? Not really. The scenes with the drug might feel more drawn out if seeing it in 2D. They were clearly done to bring attention to the fact that the movie was in 3D. Basically, the 3D works in this movie. It looks great in the scenes specifically catered for it. As with most 3D movies, having it wouldn't have been crucial but since I don't mind 3D, it wasn't a problem or annoyance.
Overall, Dredd is the Judge Dredd movie we've been waiting for. It won't win awards for its storytelling. There is a story and the movie doesn't just rely on violence. There is plenty of violence though for those craving the over-the-top action that should be included in a movie based on Judge Dredd. The movie's smaller environment gives the film an isolated feel at times but does serve the needs of the story. They may be in one location but it's a pretty big one and adds to the intensity of the movie.
Dredd won't be for everyone. With the level of violence and language, it's definitely rated R for a reason. This is what the movie deserves. It's not a water-downed Hollywood attempt to bring another comic to the big screen.
A question I was asked after watching was how many times does he say "I am the Law." It is said but I won't spoil it by saying how many.
Tony Guerrero is the Editor-in-Chief of Comic Vine. You can follow him on Twitter @GManFromHeck. He's dreading the day he'll have to bellow out "I am the Law" to his daughter.