An aggressive uber-violent action-thriller that satisfies on every level
However, once the movie starts, it really doesn't matter. This Mega City One is a dirty, hazy, polluted hell. The South African filming setting really shines through in the orangey light and sense of heat, and the dust that cakes everything. Not for this film the shiny aesthetics of Stallone's much-derided effort - here everything feels dangerous and utilitarian. Even Dredd's costume is clearly a heavy suit of practical body-armour.
The plot doesn't dawdle either. Within a very short space of time we've seen Dredd dispense justice firsthand, been introduced to the psychic rookie Judge Anderson, witnessed a brutal gang murder, and Dredd and the rookie have shown up to investigate it.
The setting for the film, vast tower-block 'Peach Trees', feels very real and lived-in, and the film manages to make the people inside it thoroughly believable as innocents who are caught up in a bad situation, with many of them trying to stay out of the way and a few foolhardy ones trying to curry favour by backing the Mama clan against the Judges.
The building is a character in its own right, heavily influencing the action, and Garland's script is inventive in both the action and emotions. While this is brutal and mega-violent, both Anderson (and to a far lesser extent Dredd) have emotions. They're not killing machines - they're just harder than nails, as is amply demonstrated in the many stunning shoot-outs and fights. Here the movie has a major winning ace up its sleeve in the drug 'Slo-mo'. It gives the film-makers the excuse to showcase sequences of breathtakingly beautiful rainbow-hued scenery (eg: bathwater glittering like scattered diamonds) and astonishingly brutal action (slow motion gunshots blowing out the sides of peoples' faces).
As crime-lord (lady?) Mama, Lena Headey is terrific. Scarred, tough and with a history to back it up, she rules her roost, giving the Judges a decent enemy to battle their way up the 200 floor block to.
The script also throws in several adult surprises. I don't mean sex, but mature decisions. People often live or die based on realistic grown-up decisions and believable behaviour, and neither the bad guys nor the Judges are wantonly ridiculous in either their heroics or their violence (barring one stunning setpiece with some powerful 'hardware').
Urban is gritty, consistent, and manages to give Dredd depth without ever removing his helmet - somehow imbuing a character we never fully see with a range of qualities that make you want to watch more of him. Thirlby is layered, emotional, and highly impressive as Anderson, and the weapons and tactics are flashy. The direction is superb, the sound effects booming and concussive, and the action exhilerating.
Massively recommended, this is a stunning and uber-violent action pic that's strictly for the over-18s.