Comic Book Villain: Dredd

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Originally Published at Truly Disturbing Horror on Sept. 28, 2012

Deserving of its critical praise and the filmgoer’s attention, DREDD  absolutely delivers on the gripping action and spectacular special effects. Surprisingly, this is a cop movie with an interesting blend of neo-noir and sci-fi. Though changes have been made in the comic-to-screen adaptation, DREDD is definitely on par with THE CROW as they both are translated faithfully in tone, look, and approach.

          In the crime-ridden metropolis known as Mega City, Judges are known as the police force of order. Feared by many, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) serves his title and more, especially as jury and executioner. Dredd is tasked by his superior to toughen up rookie and psychic Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). At a slum tower block, Peach Trees, Madeline Madrigal (Lena Headey), known as the crime lord Ma-Ma, orders her henchmen to throw three skinned bodies off the rooftop. As Dredd and Anderson begin to investigate the bloody murders, Ma-Ma seizes control of the tower and locks the two Judges inside the building. What was supposed to be a routine drug bust now turns into a fight for survival as Ma-Ma orders the deaths of Dredd and Anderson.

            The film is based on the title character, JUDGE DREDD, from the UK anthology comic anthology, 2000 AD. Created by author John Wagner, artist Carlos Ezquerra, and editor Pat Mills, Judge Dredd was originally supposed to be a horror character and evolved into a ultra-violent police officer. To carry out the law, Dredd executes his orders to the letter and never puts in any emotional context to the rules. In JUDGEMENT OF GOTHAM, this is a major reason why Batman hates Judge Dredd so much before they reluctantly team-up against a common foe. In his hostler, Dredd carries “The Lawgiver,” a gun capable of firing 6 types of ammunition. Dredd never hesitates in pulling the trigger and always justifies his actions as a way to instill fear into the hearts of criminals.

             In the adaptation by screenwriter Alex Garland (28 DAYS LATER), Dredd’s face is never revealed and his helmet serves more as a mask. In the comics, Dredd always has his police helmet on. In one of comic’s panels, as a visual gag, when Dredd took off his helmet, a censored bar appeared in front of his face. Garland focuses on Dredd’s black and white perspective, keeping him as a static character, who undergoes very little change. To compensate for the lack of back-story in Dredd, Anderson’s role is substituted with character development.

            In Karl Urban’s performance, Dredd is presented more as a soulless robot, showing no signs of emotion. Looking the part perfectly, Dredd’s police uniform seems more like worn-out riot gear, as if having been in one too many uprisings. Because the helmet is on in every scene, Urban cannot convey any expression with his eyes. What Urban does instead, he captures the raw intensity of Dredd’s personality through his raspy voice. As a character with no humor whatsoever, Urban recites some of Garland’s satirical lines with deadpan  delivery.

            As Anderson, Thirlby displays a rookie officer who is somewhat naive, but never out of her league. Anderson is attempting to gain the respect of her superior, while proving she can handle herself in a tough situation. The movie works very well because of the pitch-perfect chemistry between Thirlby and Urban. This is a different type of role for Thirlby, who is mostly recognizable as the plucky comic relief in JUNO. Thirlby does a nicely believable round-house kick in one of her action sequences.

            Pay close attention to the roles of the women in DREDD. Because this is basically a cop drama, Garland does a creative spin on the clichés. This is a different type of relationship between a man and woman. There is no romanticism involved as Thirlby and Urban never attempt to share intimacy between their characters. In her two scenes, Rakie Ayola is able to say a lot with her actions as Chief Judge. Audiences can tell Chief Judge respects Dredd’s opinions and always appears to be on his side.

            Moviegoers have become accustomed to certain comic book movies, such as X-MEN, BATMAN BEGINS, and AVENGERS (even James Bond has a beginning) serving as origin stories. Garland’s adaptation has a “take it or leave it” attitude, which is quite refreshing. Audiences aren’t going to see how Dredd earned his badge as a Judge, nor are they going to see how he became a no-nonsense cop. This film serves more as an introduction to the Mega City world itself. Viewers are presented with the characters and told what they do.

            The comic book was originally adapted onto the big screen in 1995. JUDGE DREDD mostly served as a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, played more for laughs from Rob Schneider. Though some lines are repeated, there is a major difference between the performances by Stallone and Urban. Just look at the way they say the line, “I am the law.” Stallone says these lines boisterously and exaggerated. Urban repeats these same words more as a matter of fact.

            Audiences will actually forget Stallone’s movie once they see how director Pete Travis (VANTAGE POINT) envisioned DREDD more as a mix of neo-noir, sci-fi, and action. The special effects, the performances, and the hyper-stylish violence – all of these will keep the moviegoer’s eyes busy throughout the film’s running time. It is quite impressive how Travis can turn a gory scene into a gorgeously and artistic sequence.

            If you are a fan of the JUDGE DREDD comic series, such as this critic, you are definitely going to be pleased with DREDD. For the rest of the movie-going audience, when time has passed and when they look back, they will realize DREDD is actually what the ROBOCOP remake should be, but probably isn’t.