Judge Dredd has been a recognized commodity in the UK for 35 years already. The same can not be said in the States however. Despite his long standing presence in the comic industry, and the respect of die-hard comic book geeks, he remains the victim of a crappy 90s movie that tarnished his reputation and now made it hard for him to break out of the Stallone mold. Dredd was done right, but seemingly no one bothered to see it. Why is that though?
Since his inception in 1977, Dredd’s mythology has consistently grown and evolved as the famed hard-ass law keeper patrols the dystopian Mega City One; a massive city-state that came about after nuclear war in 2070, and occupys most of what used to be the eastern coast of the United States. At times it has ranged all the way from Miami up to Toronto, and at its peak the city has housed a population of over 800,000,000 residents, most living in massive apartment tenements with about 50,000 people per building. The mass overpopulation has proved the old legal system obsolete as the city is now monitored by Judges. These Judges take the place of the Jury and Executioner as well. This all makes for a solidly badass backstory – unfortunately most movie goers in the US, even including a lot of comic book fans, don’t actually know about any of it.
As popular as Dredd is in the UK, he’s still not well known on this side of the pond, even though fighting Xenomorphs (Alien) and traveling to Gotham for a toe-to-toe with the Dark Knight have more than established Dredd as a heavyweight. Unfortunately though, most of what he is known for here is what was portrayed in the 1995 movie starring Sylvester Stallone. This is not a good thing. Stallone’s Dredd has multiple issues that fanboys were (justifiably) upset about, the least of which was the helmet. In over three decades of print adventures and ass-kickings, Dredd has never shown his face. In the Judge Dredd movie however, it took all of about 5 minutes before he not only took the helmet off, but went without it for practically the whole movie. I mean this is worse then Spider-Man 3 when Venom’s face kept peeling back to reveal Eric Forman.
More egregious than the helmet however is the lack of substance in the first movie. Dredd is often a symbol of the obvious flaws that would come with a police state atmosphere. He is also a testament to the need of proper legal rights, while at the same time showing the advantages of skipping over all the trial procedures and just punishing the guilty right off. The Stallone movie really didn’t show any of the deeper elements of the comic, and instead attempted to humanize the character, thus removing what makes Dredd unique.
However the latest movie; Dredd – made no attempt to humanize the comic icon, rather portraying him akin to Schwarzenegger’s first turn as the Cyberdyne Model T-101 Terminator. He remained an unwavering symbol of swift punishment, leaving the emotional growth to the supporting cast, and refreshingly so. Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) was the human conduit to the audience, as she experienced the infamous Judge along with the rest of us. She was forced to make the very decisions that would normally be used to traumatize a character as she was shown both sides of Mega City One’s law enforcement system, and refreshingly – she resisted the moral high ground and remained badass.
It’s a shame that Stallone’s 1995 film version dominates the reputation of the character still, and likely is what kept many movie goers away from the theater recently, when it opened to a pitiful $6 million weekend. That is about half of what Stallone got…17 years ago…with 300 less theaters and no 3D crutch to lean on. As of now, it’s only at about $10 million in the US with a budget of about $50 million – that math says no sequel in the plans. The movie was awesome and did a great job of capturing tone of the books, it’s just sad more people didn’t see it because Karl Urban was excellent, and this could’ve been the start of a beautiful franchise.
I will say that people could have been put off by the trailer, which wasn’t the best representation of the film. The movie itself felt much more focused than the trailer would allude to. The epically graphic violence and unshakable demeanor of our star should have lead to box office gold for Dredd, but it appears that Karl Urban and Lena Heady – both of whom were brilliant, simply didn’t have the star power to pull in the masses. Regardless, if you haven’t already (which number indicate is the case), then go see Dredd before it’s out of theaters…which could be very soon.