After a nuclear incident turned much of the United States into an irradiated wasteland known as the Cursed Earth, survivors came together and constructed a wall along the East Coast. Mega-City One, the bastion of human civilization, stretches from what used to be Boston to what was once Washington D.C
As the population spread, it became necessary to find the means to accommodate them. The government constructed 200-floor housing blocks that towered over the skyscrapers of the modern era. These housing units quickly became slums as poverty and crime spread. When the government could no longer contain the violence, they authorized the creation of a new type of law enforcement: one that would be judge, jury and executioner and known simply as The Judges.
Three thugs in a vehicle rip down the highway, endangering the lives of other drivers. Dispatch, monitoring the situation, sends out a call to all the Judges in the area noting that the criminals all have warrants for their arrest. The first responder, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), gives immediate pursuit. When the thugs realize that they are being pursued by a Judge, they pull out automatic rifles and try to blast him off the road. As Dredd gives chase, the thugs mow down a civilian giving just the excuse Dredd needed to justify lethal force.
The thugs lose control of the car, which overturns and kills two of the occupants. As Dredd orders a “meat wagon” to collect the bodies, he notices the third thug escape into a nearby shopping mall. Dredd follows a trail of bodies directly to the thug and his hostage, a young woman. Dredd tells the thug that if he lays down his weapon and releases the girl, then Dredd will give him life in the iso-cubes without the possibility of parole. The thug laughs at the offer and calls Dredd a shitty negotiator, pointing out the one thing Dredd doesn’t have: leverage. Dredd calls the thug “Hot Shot”, which automatically changes his weapon’s ammunition from bullets to incendiary rounds. Dredd fires a round into the thugs face, and the man’s face melts off. The hostage, horrified by what she’s just seen but thankful to be alive, thanks Dredd.
Back at the Hall of Justice, the Chief Justice (Rakie Ayola) calls Dredd to an interrogation room. Inside sits Cassandra Anderson, a thoroughly average cadet who failed her exam by three points but was ushered into the program on special orders. Dredd isn’t impressed and asks what’s special about Anderson. The Chief Justice allows Anderson to display her ability: she performs a psychic read on the two, deducing that there are two people outside the room, one is male and “filled with anger. And control. But there’s something else. Something behind the control…” Dredd is disgusted by the fact that Anderson is a mutant but the Chief Justice says that Dredd is to overlook that fact as he will need to be her assessment officer. Anderson’s ability would make her a powerful asset in the Judges’ war on crime.
Dredd escorts Anderson to their bikes and informs her of the regulations: an incorrect judgment, failure to carry out a sentence, or being disarmed will result in an instant failure. She accepts the terms and the two ride off to patrol the city for crime.
Across town in the housing block known as “Peach Trees”, Maw-Maw (Lena Headey) relaxes in her bathtub high on Slo-Mo. Her right hand man, Caleb (Warrick Grier), arrives to inform her of a situation. Kay (Wood Harris), one of Maw-Maw’s key distributors of Slo-Mo, caught three small time dealers trying to resell his product at a higher price on his turf. Maw-Maw asks what Kay wants her to do about it and Caleb points out that a message should be made to remind the tenants of the block who is in charge. Maw-Maw orders the three men flayed and has them each given a hit of Slo-Mo before being thrown off the top of the building and into the plaza below.
Dredd and Anderson decide that they will investigate the three homicides and arrive at Peach Trees. The Medical Examiner tells them that this was a gang killing. Dredd notices burn marks from the inhalers on the victim’s gums and deduces that someone wanted these men to feel the fall. Dredd requests all the information the Medical Examiner has on the residence of Peach Trees but the M.E. tells Dredd there’s only one person he should worry about.
Madeleine Madrigal (AKA Maw-Maw) was a hooker in the old days, before her pimp decided to cut her face. In return, she feminized him with her teeth and stole his business. Once she had enough men, she systematically took out every different gang in the building, wiping them out one by one. She started from the top floor and worked her way down until she was in complete control. Dredd tells Anderson that since this was likely a drug related hit, they’ll scope out the nearest drug den for information.
Dredd and Anderson arrive outside the drug den on floor 36. Dredd asks Anderson why she’s not wearing her helmet and Anderson tells him that it interferes with her abilities. Dredd points out that a bullet might interfere with them more and asks if she’s ready because she doesn’t look it. Dredd blows the door down and kills four of the twelve people in the apartment. He and Anderson cuff the rest when Anderson performs a read on Kay. She tells Dredd that she is 99 % sure that Kay is the perpetrator of the murders but Dredd growls that they “can’t perform Justice on 99%.” He instead opts to take Kay back to the Hall of Justice for interrogation.
The Techie, a blind prisoner with artificial eyes, informs Maw-Maw that Kay is being arrested. Maw-Maw sends Caleb to Peach Trees security station and has him kill the guards. Maw-Maw wraps her arms around the Techie gently but rubs the young man’s stomach with the sharp end of a knife. The Techie patches in to Control and convinces Control to authorize a War Simulation to “test their security system.”
As Dredd and Anderson reach the lobby, the blast doors close, and they’re sealed in. Maw-Maw takes control of the intercom system and makes the residents a deal: the blast doors will open again when the two Judges are dead. Anyone who helps will get a reward and everyone else should just stay out of their way. Dredd tells Anderson that they need to find a position where they can defend themselves and start fighting their way back towards the Medical Bay, dragging Kay along for the ride.
A small mob gathers in front of the Medical Bay and aims their guns at the stairwell door, waiting for the Judges to emerge. Dredd rolls a small amplifier ball out and informs the men that they have 20 seconds to surrender. The leader of the mob tells Dredd he has 5 seconds before they start shooting. Dredd responds by igniting the amplifier’s grenade function, killing most of the men. One survives and begs Anderson for mercy. Dredd reminds her that the punishment for attempted murder is death. Anderson complies.
Dredd demands that the Medical Examiner let him in. The M.E. refuses, saying that the Medical Bay is supposed to be a Neutral Ground. Dredd points out that the M.E. is picking a side by not letting them in, but the M.E. says there are no sides. The Judges are already dead. Anderson tells Dredd that they should keep moving up until they can find a place to interrogate Kay.
More and more men gather to hunt the Judges, forcing Anderson to use her ability to find a room with an occupant by the door. She calls out the occupant’s name softly while covering the peep hole, begging to be let it. The occupant opens the door, and Dredd forces his way in, closing the door softly once Anderson and Kay are through the door.
Dredd wants to restrain the occupant, but Anderson says that’s not an option: the occupant has a baby and the father is outside hunting them. Dredd acknowledges that Anderson is right, and the occupant tells them about a service elevator that will get them to the 76th floor. Anderson starts to thank her, but she notices a photo of the husband and is horrified to realize that it was the man she executed outside the M.E.’s office. The occupant cuts her off before Anderson can confess, telling her “I don’t want your thanks. I want you off this floor so my husband can come home safe.” Anderson leaves quietly.
On the 76th floor, Maw-Maw activates corridor partitions that seal the Judges in that wing of the building. She has her men set up artillery guns with incendiary rounds. Dredd goes to explore the corridor leaving Anderson with a warning: “If I don’t come back, you might not want to be taken alive. Just a thought.” Kay takes the opportunity to assess Anderson, pointing out that she’s “pretty well put together for a mutant.” He starts imagining violent sexual imagery to shock her, but she pistol whips him before he can have some fun.
Dredd exits the corridor to find three artillery guns pointing directly at him. He races through the corridors back towards Anderson and Kay as the rounds rip through the apartments. The rounds kill many of the inhabitants on the floor and decimate that side of the complex but Dredd makes it back to Anderson in one piece. He notices a round puncture a hole in the wall and fires a grenade into the hole, expanding it enough for the trio to escape the blasts. They emerge outside on an old landing pad which teenagers had converted into a skate park. It’s now nightfall and the kids have been freezing outside for a few hours. Dredd places a call to Control requesting back up. Control tells them that they have issued a repeal of the War Games Scenario, but it won’t take effect until the morning. They just have to stay alive.
Caleb and his men search the ruined side of the complex for the bodies of Dredd and Anderson. Smoke envelops the area from where Maw-Maw leans across the partition observing. She hears several gunshots and after a moment she sees Caleb fly through the smoke and fall to his death. Dredd’s silhouette retreats into the shadows, leaving Maw-Maw more pissed than ever.
Dredd slams Kay into the wall of a small school room. He begins beating Kay for information, but Kay remains resilient. Anderson takes over, using her abilities to enter his mind. She tortures him for a few minutes until she learns that Peach Trees is where Maw-Maw produces all the Slo-Mo and that the building is the main source of distribution. Dredd decides that the only way to get out of the building is to carry judgment out on Maw-Maw.
They make their way to another access elevator when two young boys attempt to intimidate Dredd with their guns. Dredd laughs off the threat and stuns the two boys with his gun, but Kay uses the opportunity to take Anderson hostage with her own gun. He enters the elevator and takes it to the 200th floor, leaving Dredd behind.
Two Judges arrive outside Peach Trees and demand to be let in but the Techie whimpers that he’s lost control of the system due to a fire on the 76th floor. The Judges see the smoke so they don’t question the story, instead telling him that he should hurry up or face 5 years in the iso-cubes for obstruction.
Maw-Maw isn’t pleased to see Kay but tells him that she won’t kill him because she needs the manpower. Kay’s men want to rape and brutalize Anderson, but Maw-Maw tells them that she wants it to look like a drug bust gone wrong: no rapes. She leaves with the men and has Kay stand guard over Anderson. The Techie asks Maw-Maw what they’re going to do about Dredd and Maw-Maw coyly responds that they’re going to do what every citizen in trouble does: call the law.
Dredd patches into the PA system and boldly announces that anyone who tries to get in his way will face an obstruction charge, the punishment being death. He declares that he is the Law and Maw-Maw’s criminal activities have earned her a death sentence. “It’s Judgment Time.”
The two Judges waiting outside the complex are dismissed by four Judges (Lex, Alvarez, Chan and Kaplan). The M.E. tells them the situation and pleads them to help “whoever’s still alive and shooting up there.” Lex executes the M.E. and the four proceed up to Maw-Maw’s apartments. While Judge Lex goes on the hunt for Dredd, Kaplan demands a million dollars for the extermination of the two Judges. Maw-Maw agrees.
The Techie traces Dredd’s location from the announcement and Maw-Maw’s men converge on the location but find a decoy in the booth. Dredd sees that he is almost out of ammunition and uses a napalm bomb to light his would be attackers on fire. He proceeds to the next level where he runs into Judge Lex. Lex tells him that they responded to a call for back up from a Judge. He suspects something is off when Lex doesn’t ask about Anderson and the two engage in a brief fist fight which ends with Dredd crushing Lex’ throat and leaving him to die. Lex is found by Judges Alvarez and Chan.
Kay attempts to intimidate Anderson in her cell with her photo of her deceased parents and her own weapon. She goads him into trying to shoot her, but the weapon’s I.D. function blows off Kay’s hand. In a state of shock, Anderson stands up and executes a round house kick; snapping Kay’s neck. Anderson escapes with her weapons and proceeds to look for Dredd. Maw-Maw sends Judge Chan to kill Anderson since “Anderson will hesitate” but Chan won’t.
Dredd finds the distribution center and begins firing on the technicians and equipment. He’s jumped by Judges Alvarez and Kaplan. Cornered, Dredd cycles through his ammunition list but sees all are empty until he reaches the very last category: Hot Shot. He whips out of his corner and fires the incendiary round right into Alvarez’s face, melting it off. Dredd slides behind the cover of a wall while Kaplan fires armor piercing rounds, striking Dredd through the abdomen.
Anderson stumbles upon Judge Chan in the hallway and does a psychic read when Chan requests that Anderson lower her weapon. Anderson doesn’t hesitate and kills Chan in self-defense.
Kaplan gloats over the fallen Dredd and asks if he has any last words. Dredd begs him to wait and Kaplan starts laughing, finding it hysterical that “the great, the feared Judge Dredd finally gets outgunned and his last word is wait? Wait for what?” Anderson picks up Alvarez’s machine gun and blasts Kaplan through the back. Dredd sighs with relief and gasps “Wait for her to shoot you.”
Dredd applies field dressing to his wound and takes ammunition from the Kaplan’s body. He and Anderson make their way to the top floor. They find the Techie hiding in the computer room, and he tells them the code to Maw-Maw’s personal wing. Anderson sees that Maw-Maw was victimizing the Techie and had his eyes ripped out so that he would be completely dependent on her. She lets him go, perplexing Dredd. Dredd tells her that misjudging a scenario is an automatic failure but Anderson points out she failed when she allowed Kay to take her captive. The Techie was a victim, not a criminal so she dispensed a fair judgment. They leave the room and enter Maw-Maw’s personal wing.
The assault goes smoothly until Maw-Maw’s personal body guard shoots Anderson in the stomach. Dredd responds in kind, blowing the man’s face off before Maw-Maw calls out to him. She shows him a blue pulsing bracelet, which is embedded into her wrist: A Dead Man’s Switch. If her pulse stops, the bracelet will transmit a signal to the receiver which is wired around the top 50 floors of the building if she goes, so does all of Peach Tree. Dredd glances at Anderson on the floor and shoots Maw-Maw in the stomach without a second thought.
Dredd strides across the room and picks up an inhaler filled with Slo-Mo. Reading out a list of her crimes, he tells her that he’s willing to bet that transmitter doesn’t have the range to transmit from the bottom of the building. He slams her through the glass windows of her room, and Maw-Maw falls in slow motion, hitting the ground with a splat but able to see every minute of the fall at an excruciatingly slow pace.
Dredd applies field dressing to Anderson, and they make it to the bottom of the building. The protocol is reversed, and the building opens, allowing the meat wagons and other Judges to arrive on the scene. The Chief Justice personally arrives as Anderson hands in her badge, knowing that she failed the exam. As Anderson walks off, The Chief Justice asks what happened in the building. “Drug Bust,” he answers gruffly. She then asks if Anderson was a Pass or a Fail. “A Pass.”
Dredd follows Anderson out of the building towards the ambulance for treatment, informing the viewer of how justice will prevail.
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