Not every long running comic book series is about superheroes that fly around in their spandex costumes. Which is a good thing, because there is plenty more to enjoy than just these caped crusaders when it comes to stories that feature some type of hero. Take Judge Dredd for instance. Originating way back in 1977, this I guess you could call him anti-hero made it’s first appearance in the British comic book 2000 AD. The story of Judge Dredd takes place in a future where most of the Earth is an irradiated wasteland also known as The Scorched Earth. Mega City One is a huge metropolis that is home to more than 800 million people, and stretches out across most of the Eastern United States. As one would expect, with so many people living in close proximity to each other, this is powder keg where crime runs rampant. But that’s where the judges come in. Serving as the police, but also as judge, jury and executioner, these men and women enforce the law with an iron hand. The most feared amongst them is Judge Dredd. The mere mention of his name is enough to send criminals off to cower in a corner.
The comic was a huge succes and is still ongoing with an enormous amount of issues that have been published, as well as loads of sidestories that tell more about the characters in Dredd’s world. When something is a succes, it usually means that Hollywood comes knocking, and so it was when the movie Judge Dredd was released in 1995. Starring none other than Sylvester Stallone in the titular role, the film unfortunately wasn’t a big succes. Even though it had a huge budget, and it looked the part both in special effects and set decorations, it didn’t feel like it did erm justice to this dark hero. One of the biggest sins was the fact that Dredd took off his helmet that conceals most of his face, something that had never happened in the history of the comic. The film unsurprisingly never got a sequel, and even though it’s still campy fun in it’s own way, most fans of Dredd despise it. To everyone’s surprise though almost 20 years later a new movie was made, that was set up to serve as kind of a reboot. This time it starred actor Karl Urban in the lead role, and this movie could not be any more different from the 1995 incarnation. For one thing it’s R-rated, for another this is the film that should have been made in the first place as it truly brings to life the hard hitting character of Judge Dredd.
In Mega City One there is a new type of drug that is taking over the city by storm. Called Slo-Mo, it causes it’s users to perceive time as though it’s moving at 1% of it’s normal rate. In a huge 200 floor city block, three people have been found dead, skinned alive and thrown from the top floor of the building. Responding to the call is Judge Dredd, together with the female rookie recruit Anderson. She recently failed the judge aptitude test, but only by a very narrow margin. The reason she hasn’t yet been dismissed completely is the fact that she is a very powerful psychic, who is able to read people’s minds like a normal person would read a book. It’s up to Dredd to assess her abilities and see if she is up to the task of becoming a full on street judge. However the both of them have no idea what they are about to run into. Arriving at the scene, it doesn’t take them very long to find the killer, due in part to the mind reading abilities of Anderson. When they are about to leave with the perp in custody, the building goes into a lockdown, trapping the judges inside together with the citizens and criminals that call the building their home. A chilling voice soon comes over the P.A. system, belonging to the insane drug dealer Ma-Ma, and she calls out to everyone to kill the judges. In this impossible situation it seems the curtain has fallen for them both. But impossible isn’t in Dredd’s vocabulary….
Dredd is one of the most underrated movies ever made. When it was released critics were mostly very positive about it, but the public didn’t really go watch it. This might be in part because of the bad taste that the Stallone driven film left behind back in 1995. And that’s a real shame, as this movie really is incredibly good. A fact that more and more people are discovering, as the movie got a new life in home theatre releases and has since become a bit of a cult film. One of the things that makes this movie so good is Karl Urban’s performance. He simply IS Judge Dredd, and has a truly tough job, as in contrast to Stallone, Urban doesn’t take his helmet off, which means you can only see his mouth. He still manages to give life to his character though, and his Dirty Harry on steroids act is definitely the highlight of this film. Let’s not discount Olivia Thirlby’s role though as the vulnerable, but also heroic recruit Anderson. She is tough as nails, but also has a bit more of a human side to her, which is a nice counterbalance to Dredd’s “shoot first ask questions later” demeanor. Their onscreen chemistry, such as it is, really works well and as this movie mainly focusses on them, that’s a good thing.
Lena Headey, who most people will know from Game Of Thrones as the evil Queen Cersei, plays the main villain in Dredd, the loathsome Ma-Ma. With a horribly disfigured face, there is no humanity whatsoever left inside her. Even though it’s a really good performance, there is little to no background on her, which ultimately makes it a bit of a flat character. Dredd isn’t R-Rated for nothing, as there are a lot of violent scenes in this film. For martial arts fans that might have heard of a movie called The Raid, this film has quite a few similarities with that one. Dredd and Anderson must fight their way through floors and floors of criminals in order to stay alive. The camera style that’s being used is also worth noting as even though it’s a brutal film, it’s brought to life in an almost artful way with extensive use of slow motion (also in part caused by scenes where people are under the influence of the Slo-Mo drug). Dredd is an incredibly violent, actionpacked science fiction movie that’s well worth your time. Karl Urban himself has been game to reprise his role for many years now, and with an incredibly strong fan base that want to see this happen, we can only hope that it will. For now though, there is no law that’s keeping you from watching this film!
I give Dredd a 9 out of 10 score.