“…Ma-Ma’s not the law………I AM THE LAW……”
Judge Dredd ( Dredd 3D )
While reading the New York Daily News review of the new movie, Dredd 3D , I considered myself proud to be a movie reviewer for AlternativeMindz. The reviewer, who deserves and shall remain nameless, wrote , “Dredd himself is a cypher who resembles Robocop”. Now, anybody who actually is a fan of the Dredd source material knows that Robocop was influenced by Dredd ( and that the character predates Robocop by about 10 years ). I don’t know what it is about mainstream critics. They have no problem writing a clear and concise review when they’re given whatever independent Oscar bait that is being released by the major studios, that year. However, give them something in the science fiction, thriller, ( or worse ) comic book genre and they’ll write a scathing treatise that is not so much a review but an opportunity for them to expound on their condescending views for film genres that they feel are beneath them ( as “serious” critics ).
Based upon the British comic book character Judge Dredd ( created by writers John Wagner and Pat Mills and artist Carlos Ezquerra for the science fiction anthology series 2000 A.D. ), the movie is set in the post apocalyptic future of North America. Due to nuclear fallout as a result of war much of the continent is a barren wasteland known as the Cursed Earth. The last remnants of the human population are forced to live in in an overly expanded metropolis known as Mega City One. Due to the highly stressful and overcrowded living conditions, crime in this city is on record levels and requires a legal system necessary to handle it. The government has done away with the stagnant pace of due process and has given its law enforcement officers the power of the courts. These officers or ( as they are called ) “street Judges”, have the power of judge, jury, and ( if need be ) executioner. The most famous of these street Judges is Judge Joseph Dredd.
The movie begins when Dredd ( played by actor Karl Urban ) is assigned a rookie Judge to take out and evaluate. However, Judge Cassandra Anderson ( played by Olivia Thirlby ) is no ordinary cadet. Anderson is a mutant ( as a result of radiation exposure at birth ) with exceptional psychic abilities that makes her invaluable as an early warning system and an interrogator. Dredd is ordered by a Chief Judge to take Anderson and throw her into the “deep end of the pool” to see if she can handle the pressure of being a Street Judge. We soon find out how deep the water runs when Dredd and Anderson answer a report of a triple homicide at a 200 story housing project called Peach Trees. The triple homicide was ordered by an ex-prostitute turned drug lord named Madelaine Madrigal or “Ma-Ma” as she is known ( and played by actress Lena Headey ), Months back, Ma-Ma cornered the drug trade when she introduced a new drug on the market called Slo-Mo ( a drug, that when taken, gives the user the illusion of time slowing down ). She also consolidated her hold on Peach Trees by killing off all the members of the rival gangs residing in the building. As Dredd and Anderson make their way through the housing project during their investigation, they come across Kay ( one of Ma-Ma’s inner circle ). This proves to be a problem for Ma-Ma because Kay knows the full inner workings of her Slo-Mo business. Not wanting Kay to be taken in for interrogation, Ma-Ma places the entire housing complex on lockdown. She then takes to the building’s PA system and orders every gang member to arm themselves and take the two Judges and their prisoner down. Dredd realizes that the only way he and Anderson will survive this turn of events is if they make their way up to Ma-Ma’s level and take her out before her clan takes them out.
Overall, I have to say I loved the film. However, if I had to state which film was the better adaptation of the source material….this one…..or 1995’s Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone….I’d have to say it would be a mixture of the two. I think the Stallone version ( directed by Danny Cannon ) retained many elements of the feel of Mega-City One and its eclectic cast of characters ( ranging from ABC robots to Mean Machine and the Angel clan ) as well as the exaggerated uniforms of the Judges ( designed by Versace ). Unfortunately, Stallone never quite convinces as Judge Dredd. To Stallone’s credit, he has acknowledged ( in interviews ) that the fans had a problem with him taking off the helmet ( which is considered a taboo for Dredd purists ). And Stallone is one of those stars, like Jack Nicholson, whom the audience cannot seem to overlook those original mannerisms and traits that make them such standout personalities. In short, Stallone didn’t not portray Judge Dredd…. Stallone played “Stallone”.
Karl Urban on the other hand is mainly considered a supporting actor. This film was one of those rare occasions where he was the headliner ( as in 2007’s Pathfinder ) and his limited exposure to general audiences actually works in his favor. This frees him up to go in whatever direction and how far he chooses to portray Dredd. And unlike Stallone, he never takes off the helmet. You might think this places limits on him as an actor ( in conveying a complicated character as Dredd ), but surprisingly his performance is nuanced and registers on several levels of subtle emotion. He is perfectly matched by Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson. The filmmakers were smart not to go with a straight up adaptation to an already existing 2000 A.D. plotline and instead focused the plot on Anderson’s first day on the “job”. Thirlby ‘s Anderson passes from fearful rookie, guilt-ridden killer, and, finally, to hellbent and determined officer of the Law. It is a believable “baptism of fire” and Thirlby never rings a false note. Lena Headey as Ma-Ma offers a nice turn in the villain role, which traditionally ( in action films ) would have gone to a male actor. Her Ma-Ma is a vicious killer and her disregard for Life matches the jaded outlook of the character. This is one villain that actually looks forward to being offed by the hero.
The gritty tone of the movie reminded me of director George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy. It is a realistic take on the Judge Dredd character. However, in the comics , Dredd is not just a figure of the action drama genre, but also a satire on right wing politics. A commentary on an idea of a society so out of control that it justifies the need for a police state. And it is, in this case, where Robocop got it right. Thank God this review was written by fanboy who “gets it”.
Follow Ed on Twitter @efg72