Don’t Dread the Coming of Judge Dredd

Anderson and Dredd

We’re starting to get glimpses of the new film adaptation of the legendary British comic series Judge Dredd, called simply Dredd, and while I am… er, still waiting to be impressed, I am buoyed by the newest images. This latest, depicting Judges Anderson and Dredd, is excellent. I know it’s early, but Dredd‘s September release date will be here quickly, and the intervening summer will boast the big-budget, big-name The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, so this rather obscure in the USA (but wildly popular in Great Britain) property needs to build some name recognition quickly.

The movie stars Karl Urban – who turned heads as Dr. McCoy in 2009’s rebooted Star Trek, but he established his action cred as Vaako in The Chronicles of Riddick – playing Joe Dredd, a legendary judge in futuristic Mega-City One.

In the far future, Judges act as policeman, attorney, judge and jury all in one, meting out sentences to criminals on the spot — including summary execution. Mega-City One covers roughly the entire East Coast of what used to be the United States, while Mega-City Two encompasses Southern California. Between them is a radioactive nuclear wasteland left by the Atomic Wars of 2070, branded the Cursed Earth, with the upstart Texas City in the south.

Stallone's interpretation

You may recall (even have nightmares about) Sylvester Stallone’s limp attempt to bring the long-running character to the screen in 1995’s Judge Dredd – which had the audacity to cast Rob Schneider in the role of comic sidekick and Armand Assante as (spoiler alert!) Stallone’s identical twin brother, Rico! But the real crime was Stallone taking the name Judge Dredd and slapping it on one of his generic “framed for a crime he didn’t commit” revenge fantasies. Or maybe the bigger injustice was the sad waste of sexy Diane Lane as Judge Hershey. (No, we will brook no jokes about the tightness of her uniform…)

I cannot even remember the convoluted and nonsensical plot of Stallone’s movie beyond Rico wanting to take over the judges. This new film pits Dredd and trainee Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) from the Psi Division (a psychic) against a gang peddling a reality-altering drug called Slo-Mo.

Urban gets mean...

All we have seen so far from Dredd are some dark, blurry photos and a couple of brief clips that convey nothing except for the look of the judges’ helmets. And to me, the headgear looks a bit overly large; however, there is something in heft of it that captures the exaggeration so often portrayed in the comic strip published in 2000 AD magazine. Now, this may also be an overreaction to the earlier movie, which featured helmets that were too small. Urban has said that, true to the comic, Dredd will never remove his helmet in this movie – unlike Stallone’s Dredd, who popped his top every chance he got so audiences could tell that… y’know, that’s Stallone under there. (In case his mush-mouthed declarations of “I am the law!” didn’t cinch it.)

I am looking forward to this movie because it shows a lot of promise. The script was written by Alex Garland, who reimagined zombies with 28 Days Later and packed some solid hard science into Sunshine, but instead of usual collaborator Danny Boyle, he’s working with director Pete Travis, who’s mostly known for TV work in England.

The studio publicity machine promises that this movie will be “a futuristic neo-noir action film that returns the celebrated character to the dark, visceral incarnation from [co-creators] John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s revered comic strip.” Let’s hope so!

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