Movie nerds suck. Seriously. They are the whiniest little bitches; tubby nerdgins pounding out vast tracts of nerd rage over the lack of proper ultra-violent action films; griping about how Live Free or Die Hard was PG-13, thus denying us John McLane's Roy Roger's (and Ghandi) quote or the threat of a non-R Alien movie in the form of Prometheus. So you'd think that they would've been stoked for Dredd, especially as reviews and buzz spread that it was a serious, splatterific take on the cult comic book, far removed from the campy Sylvester Stallone-fronted Judge Dredd. But, unlike You've Got Mail, it was built and they didn't come. (Wait, what?) Dredd did dreadfully (heh) at the box office and so much for that franchise's hopes. The nerds asked for it, got it, then stayed home, choosing to blog about how no one makes these sorts of movies while through their inaction, justifying Hollywood's case for not making them because no one goes to see them. Chicken, meet egg. Losers.
If you saw Sly's version, the setup is pretty much the same: It's the future; America is mostly bombed-out nuclear wasteland; the remaining area is MegaCity One, a solid megalopolis with 700 million people packed into an area from Boston to Washington D.C. In MC1 are "megablocks" - kilometer-high, 200-story towers with 75,000 residents, mostly living in slum conditions. In the Peach Trees megablock lives Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a former prostitute who killed her pimp, formed a gang, cleared out all the other gangs in the place, and now is the manufacturer and distributor of a formidable new drug called Slo-Mo which makes users feel that time is passing at 1% normal speed.
When Ma-Ma has a trio of crooks who crossed her tossed to their deaths in the tower's atrium, Judges Dredd (Karl Urban) and Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) - a rookie on her first day evaluation - investigate, rapidly capturing one of Ma-Ma's lieutenants to take in for interrogation. Knowing that if he gets grilled, he'll eventually spill the Slo-Mo beans, she locks down the entire megablock, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside, and sending every bad guy in the place to hunt them down. Hijinks ensue.
While the setup is pretty simple and the violence so ultra that it's surreal, what with shots of bullets tearing through heads, spraying digital blood in ribbons, there is a tidy lean and meanness to Dredd. I don't read the comics, but know that this version sticks to the text by never removing his helmet, forcing Urban to convey his stoic rage with just his grimacing mouth and jutting chin. (Thirlby is helmetless because it interferes with her mutant psychic abilities, which is shown with some nifty effects.) Urban plays Dredd like a pissed-off Clint Eastwood and a slyly unironic humor. When he hisses, "I am the law," it plays a lot better than, well, this...
On the downside, though, with such a limited brief, it surprisingly slows down a tad much in a couple of spots and the violence could've actually been a little more amped up. There are some subtle details in the script which provide unexpected depth in spots, but for the most part it's just cracking skulls and capping foo's for 90 minutes. Headey is a trip with her spikey hair and slash-scarred face; she's one tough mama. (Yeah, I punned that.)
Visually, the 2D/3D combo Blu-ray looks OK, though I only watched it in 2D. Audio is super bass-heavy, so if you've got a booming system and hate your neighbors, this will work nicely. On the extras front, there's a superficial 15-minute overview of the 35-year history of the comic book and another 15 minutes of making-of, concentrating on the 3D cameras and special effects to convert Johannesburg, South Africa into MegaCity One; plus a handful of 2-3 minute bits about costumes and gear; it's all pretty superficial.
Should Dredd have been a blockbuster or could it have been if the emo bitch nerd babies had left their basements for the multiplexes? I don't know if it could've been big - probably wouldn't have been - but it's hard to demand movies like it if you don't support them when they do get made.
Score: 6/10. Rent it.