With Marvel Studios going strong entering phrase 3, and DC Comics looking to make a similar splash in the near future. It sure feels like comic book movies are a sure bet these days. The grass wasn’t always so green in the 90s. Alot of studios tried to recreate the past success of Christopher Reeve’s superman and Micheal Keaton’s Batman. One of these films was the 1995 adaptation of niche british comic Judge Dredd. Helmed by Silvester Stallone, the reception was lukewarm at best, but frankly bad. Almost 20 years later, its time for round two, with a much-needed reboot.
The story takes place in a dystopian future, where the world is an irradiated wasteland referred to as cursed earth. The majority of humanity lives in vastly over populated mega cities. This particular city is mega city one, home to more than 800 million residents. In order to deal with the population, the justice system has been compressed. Law is enforced by a police force known as Judges. Judges are the judge, jury, and executioners. Allowed to capture , sentence, and if needed execute criminals on the spot. Judges are the living embodiment of the law, and the most feared judge of them all is the titular character Judge Joseph Dredd.
Dredd is tasked with evaluating a candidate the candidate judge Cassandra Anderson. Her scores from cadet school aren’t great, but she has strong psychic abilities. Dredd will evaluate her for a full 24 hours in the field. Dredd lets her know there are 12 serious crimes reported per minute, 17,000 a day, and they have the ability to respond to about 6%. He lets her choose what report to respond to you and she decides to respond to a reported homicide in a super block called Peach Trees. Super blocks are oversized apartment residential areas, this one in particular is 200 stories tall and houses around 75,000 residents.
This residence happens to be the base of operations for a drug lord named Ma-Ma. She is producer and distributor of a new drug taking the city by storm called Slow-Mo. It decreases the senses perception of time to 1/60th. She is ruthless and has control over the entire block. Dredd and Anderson manage to capture one of her lead henchmen. Over fear of what they might learn of her operation if they take him back for interrogation. She decides she needs to kill the judges, and orders the entire block locked down. She puts an active bounty on their heads to every willing criminal in the block. Dredd and Anderson are cut off from the outside world, and with no expectation of back up must fight to survive the oncoming onslaught.
Where comic book movies tend to fail is when they get away from the source material. It’s a trade-off hollywood often has to make because time is concerning factor. You don’t have an infinite amount of time in which to cover all the details a hundred issue comic has to offer. Stallone’s version of Dredd took an immediate detour from the source material by rooming the titular characters helmet. An obvious move by the studio, wanting to showcase their star actor. However to Judge Dredd faithful, it was an egregious sin. This adaptation rights that wrong. It is very faithful to the original source material. Karl Urban dons the helmet for the entire film and wears the signature scowl of Dredd perfectly. Olivia Thirlby also turns in a good performance alongside him as Judge Anderson. The pair’s connection is a big part of film. The story choosing not to deal with the origins of Dredd , instead opting to use Dredd for what he is. A walking force of nature dedicated solely to the law. She serves as a good medium for the audience to learn about the world from a Judge’s perspective, and doesn’t seem out-of-place while doing it. Dredd is brutish, logical, reserved and that’s not to say Anderson isn’t. She isn’t blind to the reality of the world, but she can’t attack it head on like Dredd does. Her psychic abilities also offer her a different measure in which to be effective, not to mention a few fun moments.
The action of the film is where it tends to really shine. The judges are known for being swift executioners, and the action does this reputation justice. Alot of people make a comparison to the plot of this film versus popular action flick The Raid. Which came first isn’t really important, but they do share knack for making entertaining action sequences. The world of Mega City One is very gritty, and it surrounds its action with that frame of mind. Their aren’t any overwhelming digital effects, they mostly let the actors and the cinematography do the work. If you directly compare this film to the 1995 adaptation, it screams less is more, and they were 100% correct.