The first Judge Dredd with Sly was close but no cigar, I enjoyed how they tied in much of Judge Dredd's world as written by John Wagner and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra by giving audiences a bit of a historical background; showing briefly a map of the world which included Mega City One and Two as well as Texas City, having the Cursed Earth be a key scene of the drama, the Angel Gang, ABC Warrior, Rico....but it was completely and utterly destroyed by the ridiculous acting of Sylvester Stallone (though Paradise Alley with Armand Assante, who played Rico in 95's Judge Dredd was outstanding) and his comedic sidekick slash Adam "you can do it" Sandler entourage member Rob Schneider. Don't get me wrong, if you're a Dredd fan it's still needed in your DVD library, but it just wasn't quite Dredd.
I am not terribly fond of movies derived from comics, sure Spider Man kicked arse, but it was definitely toned down, as were the comics, for a younger age group. And though the legendary writer Alan Moore was not affectionate towards Hollywood's adaptation of his works, most notably The Watchmen or V for Vendetta , I found the Watchmen to be quite enjoyable.
With that said, I was, and still am, a huge fan of comic books, being raised on Heavy Metal, Savage Sword, EPIC, old EC, Creepy, a whole slew of underground works including those of the legendary counter-culture Rip Off Press and of course,2000AD...Strontium Dog and Judge Dredd being my favorites. When I first heard a new Dredd flick was in the works, I had to say I was both excited and skeptical; I mean, after suffering through the hideous recent Conan movie, which felt was more like something developed for television rather than the big screen due to the fact that I think Howard's Hyborian Age was similarly as complex as Tolkien's Middle Earth in geography and culture, perhaps not in mythos, it should have been afforded the same cinematic treatment as Lord of The Rings.
The growing feeling, if you can excuse the pun, of dread I had for the new Dredd was from a fear that yet another butchering of one of the greatest comics ever created would take place; it steadily grew worse when I saw the first images of Karl Urban in something which was more akin to today's police riot gear than the iconic suit of the ol' Judge himself...but the Judge's new threads quickly became an asset once I was actually able to view the film.
My boy and I were waiting all summer for this, I have given him several Case Files to get into and when I found the Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death video game years ago I quickly snatched it up...we were now both hardcore Dredd fans and were not about to miss this movie. The day finally arrived, and I left work to make my way home as fast as I could, I called the theater...they weren't showing it! Bloody hell! (I was in full limey mode by this time), I quickly got onto the Dredd Movie website and located the nearest theater...it was to be a road trip.
After arriving at the theater my son and I anxiously eased ourselves into our seats, large drinks and popcorn at the ready, we endured many minutes of commercials, then the trailers hit, again too long to wait...and then a panorama of the Cursed Earth and Mega City One was magnificently splash across the screen.
I am not going to publish many spoilers here folks, oh no, no, no, what I am going to write however is that Lionsgate has certainly made the wrong they did with Conan right! I was amazed how well Alex Garland wrote something which was an extremely gratifying full-on Judge Dredd experience.
The opening shot of the movie is superb, taking you from the cursed earth into Mega City One; it lays down a bit of a background tale without over-inundating the uninitiated audience into Dredd's world; all you learn is that something very bad has happened which created the social cultural structures which they, the audience, now find themselves immersed in.
Now, here is something which is interesting, though Mega City One has large "Blocks" as they are known in the comics (essentially large tower blocks similar to those we find in urban housing projects yet considerably more massive, housing 70k +), you see the decaying remnants of a familiar culture, something which was drowned out in the older movie by futuristic technology....also the transportation system is not quite what we see in the comics...it's familiar, at least similar, to what anyone living in a sprawling American city would see if they looked out their window today. I am not sure this is because the filmmakers had to work within a limited budget or if it was a conscious effort to make Dredd more understandable in this day and age; make the audience relate to the environment more. Whatever the case, it just works!
I was truly hoping for a plotline which included the Sov Judges, the Angel Gang or even, oh god let there be a sequel, Judge Death but no, there wasn't any of that...again, I think they used their resources to their best advantage and boy, did they come through!!
Of course, the hardcore fans are gonna be screaming "I want, I want" without ever seeing the film, hell I did, ask the the Tweet Droid, but when one realizes that fewer and fewer of the newer generation of American comic enthusiasts are even familiar with Dredd which, I'm sure, is primarily due to the 1995 movie, it's best not to heap a ton onto these people, stick to the basics, give them a taste of what and who Judge Dredd really is...and yes, they did just that.
This, IS the movie for those of us who read and enjoyed the grittier storylines of the 2000 AD comics which were geared towards a more mature audience, hence the R rating; and, to put it in layman's terms, it kicks ASS from beginning to end!
Karl Urban has proven himself to be a splendid actor who understands that the role should not bend around his persona, rather, he should adapt to the personality of the character he is playing...anyone who saw him play Dr. McCoy in the 2009 re-boot of Star Trek knows this man understands his craft...damn, DeForest Kelley couldn't have played himself better! Urban IS Judge Dredd, right down to the scowl...even in profile! He creates a man who is driven, just as the original character is, to dispense justice and enforce the law without mercy...just, like our favorite Judge. The Filmmakers didn't try to make Dredd an overly complex character, even though he is once you get to know him; all they did was introduce a hint via comments of another cast member...just enough to make you want to understand him more. Whether we are talking comics, movies or literature making the reader or audience feel they should learn more about the central character is golden; you want your audience to feel a need to understand a person over time and that doesn't mean in just two hours...that means another issue or sequel.
Olivia Thirlby plays a rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson, a Mutie (Mutant) and future member of the Psi-Division, who has a remarkable talent; and, though I may come across as being a bit misogynistic with my following comment, she is hotter than a grilled habanero dipped in ghost chile hot sauce!
Lena Headey who plays our villainess Ma-Ma, an ex-prostitute who rose to be a major player in the criminal underground of Mega City One, is outstanding in her portrayal of someone who is psychologically/spiritually damaged and sadistic while, at the same time, showing hints of vulnerability; just shadows really, with little, almost unperceivable expressions crossing her face from time to time. Here, she is able to display a beauty even though she is harshly disfigured and hardened by the abuses which has converted her into the criminal queen of the block.
The cast came together perfectly in a movie which leveraged its strengths to the maximum, the special effects, especially during the scenes where the drug "Slo-Mo" is inhaled, are incredible to watch in 3D...which is the ONLY way to see this movie. No cheap parlor tricks here ladies and gentlemen, there are some parts which literally drop you from great heights and, again for lack of better words, blow your mind!
Dredd is NOT for young children, and if you do have kids who are into Dredd and are screaming to see it, make damn sure your hand is quicker than Jesse James on the draw to cover those eyes...there are a couple parts which certainly are not intended for folks under 17...remember this isn't Marvel or DC we're talking about here!
I absolutely love how director Pete Travis works the imagery of this movie; dazzling while being both cold and grimy like the old 70's crime dramas (the way Mega City One should be) and futuristically fresh; Dirty Harry and Popeye Doyle are quivering little punks compared to Dredd and the flying caps from Dredd's Lawgiver prove it! Liter per liter, Urban, as Dredd, spilled more blood then even the most action packed flicks which have come before it...it's the Mega City style of carnage!!
The only drawbacks to this film, I know it's really petty of me, is that I felt they could have closed out the movie with Anthrax's "I Am The Law" . Also, at the end of the credits, should have given a teaser of what's to come...yes, my son and I waited in the hopes to see the bared teeth of Dredd's greatest archenemy...why was I disappointed there was no credit teaser you may ask? Well, because I feel that this movie sets the audience up perfectly with enough information to produce a sequel which delves much deeper into Dredd's world and introduce people to key characters who have played a critical role in the comic's history!
Final judgment? Drokk it! Dredd is still the law!