Karl Urban's Dredd never takes off his helmet, whereas Stallone's 1995 Judge Dredd had the Judge without his helmet for a majority of the film.
Action movies these days tend to be a bit of a paradox of themselves. Great action movies are considered where the violence can take major precedence over the story, belitting character work down to almost non-existence. Yet, explosion filled movies with pivotal plot points and great character studies are rarely considered an "Action". So how does one make a great action movie in the year 2012? Apparently, it's as easy as locking your characters into a gang-riddled building.
Dredd takes place in the post-apocalyptic future, where gangs rule almost every street in the city. A new drug, Slow-Mo, has been hitting the streets that causes the user to feel time slow down to a percent of actual reality. One gang in paticular has the manufacture on this drug and their leader, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), has no intention on letting go of control. The law enforcement has been replaced with Judges, officers who can practice the abilities of a Judge, the jury and, most favorably, the executioner. No judge has ever stepped foot in the Ma-Ma gang's headquarters, Peach Trees. Until today. Notorious for his quick rulings, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) has found himself taking a new "mutant" rookie, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), under his wing to teach her the ropes. Proving that she can spot trouble from a mile away, Anderson chooses Peach Trees and the duo is on their way. However, when Ma-Ma gets word of the Judges' capture of one of her lead men (Wood Harris), she initiates lockdown of the tower and commands all leasers in the tower to kill the Judges at any cost. For Dredd, things couldn't get any worse.
Deciding to reboot the 1995 action classic Judge Dredd, Director Pete Travis brings a style to films that is rarely explored to this level. Slowed-down motion is used in far too many movies these days to the point where audiences find it cliche and over-used. However, Travis takes advantage of this drug, Slow-Mo, and takes his time in the user's POV. Thus, Ma-Ma lifting her immersed arm from a drawn bath causes almost every seperate particle of water to be seen by the viewer. It's a style that instantly creates a level of notoriety for the director and his film. Especially in 3D, these sequences are definitely going to be the largest talk of the film. Violence is no small part of the film, either, notably put by the visceral fighting sequences; a favorite of mine being the journey of a lone bullet once it enters a drug user's cheek. The drug use and violence are 100% the signature moments that will have audiences reeling.
Another large commendation of the film was the choice to have Urban's Dredd always keep his helmet on. We never do get to see the remainder of that growling smirk, but with how much Urban uses it to his advantage, audiences won't care to see anything else. Urban puts everything he's got into the titular character with fantastic results. Having last seen Urban in the semi-similar post-apocalyptic -preacher-warrior film, Priest, Dredd is a fantastic welcome to how to bounce back after starring in a bomb. And he's not alone in his achievements. Thirlby, last remembered in the horribly-received alien invasion film The Darkest Hour, embodies Judge Anderson as a mutant determined to prove that the world can get better. The scenes involving Anderson using her psychic abilities to maintain control in a situation are the finer moments of Thirlby's performance. Headey does what she can with Ma-Ma with a signature scar and a handful of glares but make no mistake, this is Urban's vehicle and he has control from scene one.
Unfortunately, the acting and signature styles find themselves outweighed by the pacing of Travis' Dredd. When the action kicks in, the moments of gore and verocity are sporadic. Some people will get heads blown inside out, while others die of a minor leg wound. Urban's Dredd will walk away from a room exploded with blood and make his way through a staircase of henchmen by shooting their legs with a single bullet and walking past them. The film just doesn't seem as committed to the violence as it seems to be at certain moments in the story. This causes things to not only slow in pace but ultimately feel uneven. Perhaps it's a mixture of this and the final battle that becomes entirely too anti-climactic for everything that has followed, but Dredd begins to drag around the halfway mark and it never seems to pick itself back up. Thankfully, it's a missed step that shouldn't affect Dredd's box offic performance in the slightest, as audiences are introduced to new styles and violence on insane levels through the work of Pete Travis.
Surprisingly, Dredd is one of the finer films to completely assert itself into the realm of 3D. It is the moments of the use of Slow-Mo that own the 3D elements and make the price of admission worthwhile. Some scenes of the explosions and bullet-flying keep things interesting, but nothing touches how jaw-dropping the effects of Slow-Mo are with the added extra dimension. Even in the more talkative scenes, the use of foreground and background are effective enough to remind audiences of what they're viewing.
While I might not be as awe-struck by it as others, Dredd proves itself as a force to be reckoned with via insane (albeit sporadic) moments of violence and true commitment by it's two leads. In the long run, it's all about the execution. And if anyone knows about executions, it's Judge Dredd.