It takes big nerve, and a clear sense of entitlement regarding its own existence, for a violent action movie to move as slowly as this one does. That's not to say that the violence isn't splattery-cool or that there aren't lots of killings or that the dialogue isn't witty in that emotionless yeah-I-sure-am-destroying-a-lot-of-people way. I mean that it's literally slow, as in the story moves slowly and then also stops multiple times to depict the use of a fictional drug called Slo-Mo. It's a chemical that saturates the user's world with vibrant color and makes time crawl. Water droplets drift past like dust particles in a shaft of sunlight. Bodies free-fall from high places and take hours to hit the ground. The accompanying music sounds like a This Mortal Coil record (aka a heavenly choir whose batteries are winding down). It's slow interrupted by slow, then resuming slowness. With murder.
It takes bigger nerve to reboot a failed start-up franchise (see Sylvester Stallone's mid-'90s version to compare and contrast -- actually, no, don't) without a boilerplate origin story to fall back on, but that's also what happens here. Dredd (Karl Urban, helmet on for the duration, stage-whispering like Christian Bale as Batman after smoking a carton of cigarettes) is a brutal law enforcer with authority to administer any justice he sees fit when a criminal crosses his path. And that's all you need to know about him. It's also all you're going to know about him. When we meet him here he's on his way to a 200-story crime-tower run by a prostitute-turned-Slo-Mo drug lord (Lena Headey, sleazy and bored) and he's accompanied by a rookie judge with psychic powers (Olivia Thirlby, monotone). They kill the bad people. They trudge through the building. They kill more bad people. More trudging. They kill more bad people. Dredd makes a funny deadpan remark. Trudge.
The weirdest thing about this juxtaposition of extreme violence and turtle-crawl pace is that the movie seems to know its doing it and doesn't care if you like it. Want more character development? Sorry, make that any character development? Tough. The movie does what Dredd does. It executes its objective. Then it's done. And that, it seems to be saying, is all you deserve.
I'm a huge fan of reductive, one-note, blast-'em-in-the-face movies. But I've also seen Punisher: War Zone and The Raid: Redemption. Punisher is maybe the the heaviest, goriest, gut-crunchingest example of this hyper-violent genre we've been gifted with in the past decade and The Raid happens to share a plot with this movie and delivers about 100% more insane, inventive, exhausting killings. It's great fun watching Dredd do it, too. He provides an entertaining amount of death. But that's not quite enough. His problem is he's standing in the shadow of greatness. Good thing he doesn't care.