I grew up reading Dark Horse Predator comics and Wizard Magazine. As I moved into other comics, I founds lots of characters to love, but one I always knew about but never read was Judge Dredd. I recognized the character, but didn’t know much beyond the iconic appearance until the last 5 years or so.
Judge Dredd (1995)
In the 90s the mega action stars of the 80s were looking for vehicles. As Sylvester Stallone’s biggest franchises, Rambo and Rocky shifted from classic to semi-farce (at least for a decade or so) Sly began looking for other franchises to be his next big thing. He tried it first with Demolition Man but went for a recognizable character film with 1995s Judge Dredd.
Since I didn’t know about the character at the time I admit I rather enjoyed the film. It went for a “big” story, introduces the world, the judges’ council, then immediately breaks into a story of a character trying to bring it down. It was still exciting, had great 90s special effects (love that bodyguard-bot), and good characters. Stallone made a great Dredd, he certainly had the look, and Diane Cannon was also effective as Judge Hershey.
It came out in the extended Lethal Weapon fallout when every character had to have a “buddy” comic relief aspect. They chose Rob Schneider to basically play himself and proves to be the weakest part of the film. The other aspect of it is Dredd sacrilege but is a direct result of the Stallone-vehicle reality of the movie. They show Dredd’s face. Constantly. Something the creators of the comic have consciously decided not to do (as he is the faceless embodiment of righteous but fascist judgment in Mega City).
It was a Judge movie but still a Stallone movie and also a 90s action movie. It was bright, colorful, and very much a product of the 90s comic movie industry, basic popcorn entertainment. Fun but tossable.
After what a lot of fans consider to be mor Tinseltown than Mega City outing of 1995’s Judge Dredd 2012 brought a reboot in Dredd. With a faceless Karl Urban as the titular Judge, it made the gritty judge movie for the modern era. Films, even hero films, took a dark turn and Judge Dredd is perfect in a “dark” thematic world.
Karl Urban is excellent as Dredd. I didn’t even know it was him, and therefore accepted him more easily as the character. Olivia Thirlby is also fantastic as psychic Judge Anderson, a dynamic female character in modern action movies. Dredd doesn’t treat her like a woman, he treats her like a rookie. Only bringing up her gender when the possibility of capture by savage gangers is a possibility. Lena headey makes a for a sufficiently creepy villain as Ma-Ma and she’s surrounded by a circus of terrific character actors playing terrific characters.
One of the best aspects of the film is its “day-in-the-life” feel. It is a rousing action film, but in the end Dredd explains his miniature war in Peach Trees Mega block as “Drug bust. Perps were…uncooperative…” it looks great, is well-acted, and gives us a look at a different kind of comic character.
These movies show how these films are products of their time and both work very well. Essentially the 2012 Dredd ignores the previous version, but both were successful movies; the first a fun 90s-style action flick; the second a gritty, modern sci-fi crime movie.
Neither is overtly disrespectful of the origin material and the reboot classy-ly makes its own movie without deriding the original. So a viewer can watch 1995s Judge Dredd, enjoy the fun 90s glory of it; then watch Dredd and appreciate the millennium brutality of Mega City crime fighting.
That’s the current state of reboots and remakes in my opinion. Some are good, some are bad, but admittedly it’d be nice to see a brand new intellectual property out there… Til then… It’s Judgment Time Hollywood. At least make more Apes and Dredds, and less Clash of the Titans and RoboCops…