This is the Judge Dredd movie that needed to be made.
Not just to wipe away the stain the Sly movie made on the character's reputation. Not just to show both Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby are rather fine actors. No, this movie needed to be made for one very important reason:
It shows that sci-fi can be small and still work.
Mega-City One is a sprawling metropolis covering what little non-irradiated ground exists on the east coast of North America. It's a massive choking slum/cesspool of crime, corruption, and indifference, an anarchist state in all but name where people live in fear of both criminals and the law. And Dredd the movie doesn't try and change that.
Instead of trying to tell an epic tale in an attempt to match the setting, Dredd focuses on a pair of judges, veteran Joe Dredd and his rookie partner Judge Anderson, as they're trapped in a bloc and have to fight the troops of drug-dealing ex-prostitute Ma-Ma. It's a focused story that covers a day in the life of a Mega-City judge, and it's exactly what I've been craving for a long time.
Unfortunately, at times directors and writers seem to think that sci-fi, especially stuff not set in the near future or in a carbon-copy of the real world, needs to be big and bombastic in order to work. This isn't the case. Just like in literature, sometimes the stakes don't need to be high. They only need to be personal.
I wish more movie-makers would make films like this, enough of them so that audiences would come to accept what I know to be true, that a movie can be sci-fi and many other things at the same time. Dredd is a beautifully brutal film about two cops in a bad situation. The sci-fi elements support the story without dominating it.
Aside from the extreme violence, Dredd has two outstanding performances from its lead characters. Urban is delightfully menacing and growling as Judge Joe Dredd, a cynical and scarred Judge who's seen it all. Even while wearing a full helmet he's able to get across emotion, not a small feat. Thirlby is even more impressive. While she doesn't wear a helmet for a good portion of the film her expression changes very little but she's still able to convey a wide variety of emotion. She can get more across with a slight movement of her eyebrow than Kristen Stewart could with her entire body. Casting directors everywhere take note of these two and give them more work!
Go and see Dredd in theaters while you can. I think it's destined to become a cult classic at the very least. Now if we could just get the same director and cast to do a Warhammer 40K flick I'd be set. Urban as a Space Marine, Thirlby as a Sister of Battle, yeah, it could work.