Dredd (2012) a (mildly) belated review

While there have likely been thousands upon thousands of comic book characters created since approximately 1980 and thereabouts, it is my belief that only two of them have thus far stood the test of time.  Sure, there are many creations that have achieved a great deal of fame and public notice.  At one point The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, Tank Girl, Barb Wire, and Spawn were incredibly popular characters.  So popular that they all had subsequent movie adaptations, though the success of said films varied wildly.

As the years passed, however, so too did these characters’ popularity.  While it certainly can be argued that The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remain well known, I suspect the other characters may not be as familiar to the general public as they used to be.  So…of the thousands of characters created in the comic book format, which two do I personally feel have thus far stood the test of time?  One would be Hellboy.  The other is Judge Dredd.

To me, Judge Dredd remains an incredible creation:  A fascistic cop in a post-apocalyptic world whose face is always hidden behind his bullet shaped helmet.  He patrols the enormous streets of Mega City 1, almost all that is left of civilization and which takes up most of what’s left of the east coast of the United States.  The densely populated city overflows with criminal activity, and it is Judge Dredd who, along with the other Judges, patrols this city and serves as the proverbial “judge, jury, and executioner” to any crimes he may witness and/or investigate.  While the above description may suggest a grim tone to the comic book, the early stories (ie the ones I’m most familiar with) featured a hilariously tongue in cheek attitude.  While there was plenty of violence and action, what the series from the many other “grim and gritty” books out there was the fact that there was such a very healthy dose of humor present in almost every story.

In fact, one of my favorite bits from all the Judge Dredd comic books I’ve read involves a relatively small sequence wherein the good Judge saves a man who is has jumped from a building in an attempt to commit suicide.  As the man is falling, Dredd yells at him that “Public Littering” is a crime.  Once safely in Dredd’s hands and then on the ground, Judge Dredd sentences the distraught man to 90 days in prison for being a “Public Nuisance”!

In 1995 Sylvester Stallone starred in the first film version of Judge Dredd.  While the movie captured the visual “look” of Judge Dredd quite well, the movie itself was a huge disappointment.  Comic book fans were incensed that within ten minutes of screen time Judge Dredd takes off his helmet and remains helmet-less throughout the bulk of the film.  A very ill advised comic sidekick and a lack of a focused (or interesting) story line didn’t help matters either.  The film was a flop.  The years passed and the comic continued appearing.

And then, this past year and some seventeen years later, audiences were treated to a second film version of the good Judge, this one simply titled Dredd.  This time around, the makers of the film treated the character with more reverence and appeared to be more keen on following the comic book.  Karl Urban, who takes on the role of Judge Dredd, manages to keep his helmet on throughout most of the proceedings (you do catch a very shadowy view of the helmet-less Dredd at the start of the film but never see his actual face).

And while the Judges’ costumes are simplified a bit, the movie does use characters and situations from the comic in the telling of this new story.  Sounded pretty good, right?  Well, it is…for the most part.  Unfortunately, that sense of humor I found so unique in the Dredd stories I was familiar with is almost no where to be found in this film.

In fact Dredd is a “grim and gritty” action film, period.  Yes, there are some humorous bits littered here and there, but this film was primarily crafted as a “R” rated violent affair.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The plot of the film is quite simple:  Judge Dredd is asked to watch over a potential Judge by the name of Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, who is quite terrific) for a day and see if despite failing the initiation test -by a whole 3 points- she might still be Judge material.  Why?  Because like the comic book character, Anderson is a psychic and the head Judges are intrigued with having someone on the force with genuine psychic ability.

The movie then moves to the main plot:  In one of Mega City 1’s massive high rises, the drug dealing Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) has ordered the deaths of three rival drug dealers as a message to her rivals.  Judge Dredd and the rookie Anderson come to the high rise to investigate and manage to capture the man who actually killed the three rivals to Ma-Ma.  The fact that he’s captured alive and can thus become an informant against Ma-Ma’s drug empire forces her to act.  She seals off the building before the Judges and their prisoner can get out and sets her men after them.

From there, all hell breaks loose.

Yes, the plot is similar to 2011;s The Raid: Redemption.  But I believe both films owe a large debt to John Carpenter’s terrific 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13.

So, bottom line:  Is this film worth watching?  Yes, I would certainly recommend it.  However, if you’re like me and were looking to see crazy humor mixed in with the action, tone that particular expectation down.  Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride.