Besides being a genuinely visceral (read: ridiculously gory) action movie which happens to balance its grim material with an effective streak of black humor, the biggest surprise is how thoroughly Dredd banishes all memories of the previous big screen adaptation. Let's never again talk about Sylvester Stallone's buddy action movie, which, among other sins, afflicted us with more Rob Schneider along with Armand Assante as a Stallone clone. It's dead. Gone. Done.
Long live Dredd.
Based on the 2000 A.D. comic character, Dredd brings the sci-fi cop back to the big screen with Karl Urban under the helmet*, partnered with ra ookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a below average potential judge whose psychic abilities might give her an edge on the streets. She'll need them: Dredd tells us that inside Mega City One, population 800 million, the judges are tasked with acting as both the law and prosecutors of justice -- and they're only able to respond to 6% of reported crimes.
Unfortunately, a hard first day on the job becomes a nightmare when the two judges run afoul of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a drug kingpin who commands the supply of Slo-Mo, an inhalant that gives the user the experience that time has slowed to 1% of its normal flow. Dredd and Anderson will have to kill their way up the 200 floors of the apartment block to reach Ma-Ma and escape. It's not an easy task.
Fantastically violent, you may want to check this one out in 3D just to see the lovingly fetishized shots of human bodies being absolutely destroyed in a hyper-color glow. Bodies are simply annihilated, faces smashed, riddled with holes, people just ended by guns and fire.
Dredd is just below a primal force, occasionally breaking his perfect sternness for moments of black reaction. Thirlby takes a little while to loosen up in her role, but reveals a sort of cold cruelty masked by her character's youth and rookie status. Headey is the standout with very few scenes but an established rep along with abrupt, gruesome bursts of violence, taking cues from the Sinola cartels and Sin City in terms of how her scarred junkie matron wields power over the block.
The script is from Alex Garland who, along with director Pete Travis, is able to breathe a kind of pulpy, nightmarish life into the block. It's an action movie first, with simple science fiction flourishes to enhance the storytelling. All of these elements -- the gadgets, the dusty, rusty sheen -- combine with the cast to make Dredd a brutal gut punch whose release can't come soon enough.
*One of Dredd's gifts to fans is that like his comic counterpart, the helmet always stays on.
Dredd screens at TIFF tonight and Saturday. It opens in theatres tomorrow in the UK, and in Canada and the U.S. on September 21.