The post-nuclear-dystopia that is America comprises the ruins of the old world and the mega cities of the new world. These gargantuan ghetto skyscrapers house thousands upon thousands of residents. Crime, in these slum conditions, is rampant. The Hall of Justice enforce law and order by deploying judges: glorified police officers who have the authority to mete out justice on the spot.
Meet Dredd (Karl Urban), a judge with a reputation as fierce as his tight-lipped, to-the-point demeanour. The opening scene suggests that a typical day in the life of a judge involves car chases and executing dangerous felons. We also witness a fancy feature of his pistol the 'lawgiver': voice activated special rounds such as 'hot shot'. When one of these babies plough through the cheek of a perpetrator, they blaze like phosphorous and melt the poor guy's head, both flesh and bone.
After a hard day's work, Dredd is called into the office to take a rookie on a patrol to test whether she is judge material. Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) is a scrawny young woman with doll-like facial features and blonde hair. She does not look the part. Apparently she has psychic abilities, a condition of being exposed to radiation at a young age.
Character development is as limited as the information Anderson divulges when she gets inside Dredd's head. This is acceptable because everyone watching Dredd is expecting a high body count and lots of explosions rather than sophisticated dialogue and a thorough backstory.
Anderson gets to pick her assignment, a triple homicide at Peach Trees. And off they go. During their investigation in the ghetto skyscraper, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the queen of her clan, locks the entire complex down and the two judges must fight their way to the top to confront her.
The practicality of Anderson running around all pretty-like is addressed just prior to her first raid. Anderson: Sir, helmets interfere with my psychic abilities. Dredd: Think a bullet in the head might interfere with them more.
Throughout the film we are treated to the visually stunning use of the narcotic slow-mo. When inhaled, slow-mo reduces the speed of everything you experience by a tenth of what is considered normal. During the high, everything sparkles and some action sequences use this as an opportunity to exploit bullet-time (think Matrix) where bullets fly through the air, penetrate skin and splash blood.
Unlike the camp 1995 film that featured Stallone, Urban's portrayal of Dredd is much more serious in tone. The film still works without the cheesy comic relief.
The monotonous bass-heavy soundtrack throbs to the fast pace of the action on-screen. Overall, Dredd is a stylised science fiction action flick with enough diversity in its violence to satisfy your thirst for carnage. Does all of this sound familiar? Ask screenplay writer Alex Garland if he was inspired by the 2011 movie The Raid: Redemption?