In the future, The United States of America has been transformed into a blasted, irradiated wasteland, with the millions of survivors living in Mega City One, the huge urban hellhole stretching from New York to Washington, D.C. There the population can largely be split into two groups: the offenders and the victims, with the former brought to book by the Judges, who dole out instant justice and are trusted to keep the peace, such as it is. One of the most hardbitten of these law enforcers is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), and today he has been dispatched to chase a van containing drug dealers - but what if he could get to the heart of the narcotics problem?
There was, of course, a previous attempt to bring the famed comic book character Judge Dredd from the pages of 2000A.D. to the big screen, and that was scuppered by star Sylvester Stallone's insistence that it should have been a laugh a minute, and for most of the fans not really seeming like a faithful adaptation. For those who balked at Dredd taking his helmet off and spending most of the movie out of the way of the main plot with a comedy sidekick, here was a different, more British take on the iconic lawman - for a start, the helmet stayed resolutely on this time, and the producers had wisely opted to cast a star who didn't mind that we didn't see his face, or most of it, for the entire running time.
This tended to render Dredd a monolithic presence, but you could argue that was precisely what any decent live action version of him needed, and as long as Urban had the walk and the sneer right, and didn't look as if he was going to jump at loud noises, then you couldn't have asked for anyone better. Maybe someone with a lantern jaw might have been more appropriate, but he put on his best Clint Eastwood impression - Eastwood had been an original inspiration for Dredd - and waded into the mayhem as if he was truly meant to be there, the fact that everyone was taking the future cop so seriously was a bonus to what could have been a shoot 'em up in funny costumes.
There was certainly plenty of shooting as the violence quotient was upped to levels the comic book would be happy to include, though there was a difference between seeing some get their head blown off on the page and seeing it recreated in live action, hence it was a rather grimmer affair in the movie. With Alex Garland on script duties, he had opted to tone down the humour, barely offering Dredd a couple of cynical one-liners, and that satirical tone of the source was lessened which was a shame because that served to emphasise the blood and thunder over the intelligence of the observations on modern life the comic could routinely offer. That said, the idea that simply because a medium depicts violence it doesn't necessarily endorse it was notably underlined.
Not that this stopped the perps getting offed in a variety of gruesome ways, as the gang boss (Lena Headey) in the tower block at the centre of the drug dealing operation locked the place down once Dredd and his psychic rookie partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) arrived to investigate. Now it was those two against an army of thugs, which prompted a whole bunch of movie fans to say, what a pity, The Raid had done the same plot the same year and won greater acclaim. But really the similarities were more cosmetic as Dredd took an approach that was closer to a sci-fi variation on the nineteen-seventies Italian Poliziotteschi flicks, the sort of works which featured tough, at times borderline psychopathic cops who would give the criminals a taste of their own medicine because it was the only language they understood and all that business. That it looked as slick as it did was thanks to gleaming efforts of cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, so as this was intended as the first in a series, Dredd was a solid foundation for more if nothing else. Hard-edged synth music by Paul Leonard-Morgan.