Now that’s a loaded question if ever there was one.
In doing my research for this particular journal entry I found myself actually going back on my previous statement about how I preferred action stories that had character arcs instead of overall commentaries on society. And yet I like Equilibrium and V for Vendetta and those have heavy societal commentaries. Then again those also have strong character arcs. But then why don’t I enjoy action movies like The Taking of Pelham 123 which focus entirely on characters and their arcs?
I dunno; maybe I just enjoy good action above all else.
That’s what leads me to the continuity of Judge Dredd. I mean, I know why I like it, at least conceptually. Dredd is an action hero taken to a logical extreme. He is a violent force without mercy for perpetrators of crime. He however maintains both the letter and the spirit of the law and rather then it being the shackles that restrains his darker impulses it encourages him to excel and be the paragon of the law of Mega City One that he is. The story is that in the future the world is devastated and humanity is grouped into various city states, one of which is situated on the eastern seaboard (all of the eastern seaboard) named Mega City One. This city is a cramped, crime ridden slum with most of the populous living in large towering structures called City Blocks where they can live their entire lives without ever leaving the building. It is cramped, filthy and regulated by the police force known as the judges.
The judges are the police who are outfitted with futuristic SWAT gear and given the authority to not only apprehend criminals but render sentencing in the field. They actually have a long and intricate history detailing their invention by necessity during downfall of the United States until their rise to power as the governing body over the populous. Dredd is the finest of their roster and the most infamous having surpassed most if not all his comrades in tactical combat ability as well as close combat. For reference he’s sort of like Batman if Batman got over his problem with guns. And then used one a lot.
I’ve read one proper storyline from the Judge Dredd comics involving a powerful psychic resurrect several powerful samurai to wreak havoc on Mega City One. In that particular anthology Dredd came across as a “Shoot first, shoot often and then when its dead sentence it appropriately” kinda fella. I’ve heard many people refer to the comic proper as a story that comments on the excess of police authority and what it does to society.
So where did the Stallone version go wrong?
Well… to be honest I don’t even hate that version that much. I mean, casting Stallone as Dredd seems like a logical fit. I’d go so far to say that he even looks a bit like the character.
I mean, look at them!
And for what little it’s worth it seems like Stallone was quite into the character… until he took the helmet off and just played himself about thirty minutes into the film. For those that don’t know taking the helmet off of Judge Dredd is one of those cardinal rules of the character that you don’t compromise like Batman using a gun or Optimus Prime kicking a puppy. I think it’s to highlight the fact that a good portion of Dredd’s identity, if not all of it, comes from being a law enforcer. Again, I don’t know. Not an expert. I would like to know definitively.
From what I’ve read the stories of Judge Dredd bound in the comic lines 2000 AD and his own titular title despite having several fantastical elements are fairly intricately written and logical. While the movie does indeed get the details of Dredd’s history correct (being born a clone and sentencing his own brother to jail) the movie went to great lengths to raise the stakes of that conflict. Originally Dredd’s brother Rico wasn’t someone with an elaborate god complex, he simply took to more violent criminal methodology as part of an obsession to be superior to his brother (though he was originally the superior officer in training) Dredd would eventually arrest Rico during a period where the latter became remorseful over his actions and attempted to end his own life by being shot by Dredd in combat between the two. Rico would serve twenty years in a heavy labour colony on Titan (the moon) before returning to seek vengeance having grown to hate his brother. He eventually confronts Dredd and attempts to duel his brother but fails due to the difference in gravity between Earth and Titan.
So how do you do a Judge Dredd story if not the way Stallone did it in the 90s? I think the problem with that particular version is it showcase a big problem in Hollywood in general with the need to amplify the stakes and simplify story elements when adapting an existing continuity. It’s done for larger audience appeal. However it comes with the cost of making the story too generic if the right elements aren’t preserved and outright enraging the existing fans.
And if fans of Judge Dredd are upset about the Stallone version then they have nothing on Jason Bourne fans. I could rant for hours about that little piece of shit trilogy.
So that brings us to the new Dredd 3D film. In it we have Karl Urban playing the one man army. The funny thing is, visually, Stallone’s costume looks a bit (NOT A LOT) closer to the actual version with the inclusion of the right shoulder eagle and such (though the helmet gets a change) whereas Dredd 3D sports the original helm but a much more armoured appearance. However, in this case you have the original writing crew of the comic signing off on this particular story.
In it a new drug plagues Mega City One and its core distribution and refinement is controlled by one woman who commands her own City Block. During a series of events Dredd is locked in the city block with a rookie (always a rookie) and must fight his way up and to the drug lord herself and bring… you know I’d say he’d bring peace back to Mega City One but that’s a damn lie.
How does Urban’s version stack up? How the hell should I know? The damn movie isn’t out yet! I will say this from the trailers it looks to be almost a direct transplant of Judge Dredd into The Raid: Redemption which could work really well. I adore Karl Urban as an actor though I think he’d get his best mileage as by playing villains. And I mean messed up villains. For some reason he seems to be quite insistent on whispering his lines which I imagine will become a frequent joke point for critics much like Bane’s voice was.
Will it be good? That depends if Dredd’s heavy violence can survive a film adaptation but then I think these days we can stomach a lot more violence. Dredd would just have to be set against a villain evil enough that his own hardline nature to crime would be less prevalent. I mean, the guy once sent care packages to murderers in the wastelands outside Mega City One at Christmas just to lure them out of hiding so they could be executed. It’s hard to like a guy like that when you only have a length of a movie to know him.
So too does this work exist.