Does anyone else remember how poorly comic book properties used to be executed on the big screen? Look no further than 1995’s Judge Dredd to gain a complete understanding of our past. Judge Dredd was a book adored by many; though it hardly achieving Superman or X-Men level readership, it did just fine numbers wise. The story was fantastic: a dystopian future in which people were forced to live in crowded “mega-cities.” The Mega cities were so crime-laden that our justice system collapsed. The roles of judge, jury, and executioner were combined; the resulting “Judges” are meant to bring order by any means they deem necessary, usually by shooting someone in the face. Sounds like a great basis for a movie.
1. Cast a tried and true action star
2. Tool the movie to reflect whatever is selling at the time
3. Dump all of the remaining cash into special effects
So Judge Dredd became a futuristic buddy action comedy starring Sylvester Stallone and future box office cancer Rob Schneider. Stallone played Dredd pretty much the same way he played every other role in the ’90s. Lots of bravado, light on humility, but with no small amount of heart. The movie was simply awful.
Judges have wonderful and fabulous tech that allows them to police the mega cities safely. The have fantastic guns called “lawgivers” that are voice activated and fire different projectiles. They have bulletproof body armor and computerized, virtually indestructible helmets. In Judge Dredd all of these elements are misused. The body armor comes off more like football safety equipment worn over the clothes. The lawgiver spends too much time firing flares into direct sunlight, and Stallone can’t seem to ditch the helmet quickly enough(an act in direct conflict with the character he is meant to portray)
Most of Mega City is right out of Blade Runner, while the police sets are essentially cribbed together from The Rock, Alien 3, and the Fifth Element. I consider Alien 3 to be a better film. At least in that movie you can understand what people are saying. Despite Jurgen Prochnow, Armand Assante, and Sly Stallone in the same film, the drama falls flat.
Flash forward to 2012’s Dredd, and in many ways, the timing was perfect. The reboot skipped the 2005ish era where popular casting would have almost certainly placed The Rock or Vin Diesel in the title role. Instead of a 40ish pound overweight aging Stallone, a trim Karl Urban is cast and looks as though he stepped directly from the pages of the comic. Doing the best Clint Eastwood impression I have ever seen, Urban is fantastic.
While training a new recruit, Dredd is chasing the prostitute-turned-drug-kingpin Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma peddles the drug “Slo-mo” which slows the senses to 1/2 speed. Seeing Dredd on her trail, she offers a bounty on his head and turns the entire ghetto into a shooting gallery. This also turns every resident into an enemy. The mega city is depicted on a considerably smaller scale, as most of the film is spent inside the enclosure of a ghetto.
Despite better acting, a more relatable plot, and better, if scaled down, effects, Dredd actually took in about half the receipts of its predecessor. The sequel, which had been almost a given, is now on hold. Dredd falls flat on a couple of simple points. Urban behind the opague visor can’t seem to be bothered to drop the one-liners so important to the character. Without these little breaks Judge Dredd is simply a libertarian’s worst nightmare, a fascist empowered to act unilaterally in a pursuit of order. After all, he is the law, remember.
Maybe 17 years was not long enough for Dredd. Perhaps this one just wasn’t made for the big screen.