“Dredd” has very little to live up to. Its namesake, “Judge Dredd,” is an abomination best known for blessing Sylvester Stallone (“Yo Adrian!”) with yet another Golden Raspberry nomination for Worst Actor. Remaking movies is often a fruitless attempt — the product usually unsatisfying. Now, remaking a film that already sucks — well, that’s ballsy. But not this time. This time, pure guts (literally) have paid off: “Dredd” is bloody, funny and ferocious.

Dredd 3D

At Quality 16 and Rave
Lionsgate


In a world laid to waste by nuclear warfare, one city remains: Mega-City One, a vast metropolis of 800 million inhabitants, where over 17,000 crimes are reported daily. To keep a relative amount of order in the city, the police department’s elite units, Judges, are proclaimed judge, jury and executioner. Its most reputed operative, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, “Star Trek”) and a recruit named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, “Being Flynn”) investigate a triple homicide in a 200-story slum tower block. But things take a turn for the worst and their assignment explodes into an all-out war against a drug clan led by a fearsome kingpin named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, “Game of Thrones”).

There’s nothing novel about the story. You could call it “Blade Runner” meets “The Raid: Redemption.” Yet “Dredd” is exhilarating. The action is snappy and brutal. Tracheas get crushed, people get skinned, there are hallucinogenic drugs, brain matter, images of violent sex — on a scale of one to ten on the ultra-violence meter, “Dredd” gets a Quentin Tarantino. This remake is unusually unapologetic.

And in that, it’s glorious. Finally, here’s a film that knows how to do shoot-em-ups. Director Pete Travis (“Vantage Point”) rarely wastes a scene: Each is done with a stellar soundtrack, sharp, stimulating visuals and cinematography, all supplemented by solid performances.

Thirlby, doe-eyed and idealistic, turns in a feminist-pleasing performance. Where humanity is scarce, she provides. But the real standout would have to be Headey. Her mannerisms are uniquely sinister. Her sadism takes mysterious turns that seem at once nonchalant and tragic in her character’s spacey moments. Has her experience as a prostitute calloused her to the entire world, or is it the drugs? Despite her name, there is not a single maternal instinct in her soulless, sexless body.

There isn’t a terrible amount to say about Urban. After all, he wears a mask the entire time, and isn’t allowed an abundance of emotion. That said, he’s surprising fun — hardboiled to the point of absurdity. Whenever he utters a ridiculous one-liner, with the frown-iest of frowns, the juxtaposition is hilarious. Some could confuse it for sloppy writing, but it’s really just irony.

Aside from the main storyline and characters, first-time writer Carlos Ezquerra displays a real knack for using peripheral characters. Every once in a while, the story strays from its straight-up shooter formula. It lingers on the nameless and powerless, revealing worlds to you. The audience can still discover something outside the bloodshed.

“Dredd” hearkens back to 1987 when “Robocop” came out during a boom in gang violence. Unfortunately, “Dredd” never quite reaches the level at that film. It leaves much of its political and societal overtones barely touched, but its satiric violence and emotionless protagonist pose some interesting questions.

Our culture is obsessed with the idea of a hero, an invulnerable ideal. Dredd stands for justice, but in that pursuit he becomes “more machine than man,” more Dark Knight than he is Bruce Wayne. In order to tame man, “Dredd” seems to suggest that we need something beyond moral nuance, something incorruptible and unaffected by violence, totally dedicated to a single ideal. It suggests that all power comes from violence. And so we come to an old Orwellian/Glenn Beck-ian question: Is that a society we wish to live in? Or are we already living in Mega-City One?

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