The most popular character from proudly pulpy British comics publisher 2000 AD, Judge Dredd is something of a symbol for wise-ass irreverence among the relatively austere, superhero-heavy landscape. He's a monster who readers root for simply because watching a super-cop with no sense of human empathy terrorize hapless crooks is subversively funny. Scripted by novelist-turned-screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, Never Let Me Go) and directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point), Dredd is proudly degenerate--and it never feels compelled to slow down and explain itself. Dredd succeeds where the 1995 Stallone vehicle failed because Travis and Garland don't get hung up on replicating the comics' broad sense of humor. Here, Judge Joe Dredd (Karl Urban), a cruel lawman whose job allows him to be "judge, jury, and executioner," is trapped in a tenement by drug-dealing sadists and must shoot his way out. There are numerous scenes of ghoulishly exaggerated violence, but Dredd is played straight. And that can be pretty funny. Still, scenes replicating the effect of slo-mo, a sense-enhancing drug peddled by slum lord Ma-Ma (the winning Lena Headey), show clearly why we root for Urban's more-bad-than-good guy. As bullets rip through flesh, and bodies fall through the air accompanied by sparks of light and tinkling glass, Travis allows us to revel in amoral spectacle. Yes, it's bad for you, but that's what makes Dredd the hero the comic book film needs now, most of all.
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