Judge Dredd Review: The Future Is Shitty!
Updated: Apr 17
Dir: Danny Cannon
Release Date: 1995
“In a dystopian future, Joseph Dredd, the most famous Judge (a police officer with instant field judiciary powers), is convicted for a crime he did not commit and must face his murderous counterpart.”
2000 AD comic character Judge Dredd is a beloved figure in the annuals of British comic book history. He has been around since 1977 plying his trade of being Judge, Jury and Executioner in the world of the future.
He is famous for his load bearing chin, no nonsense attitude to crime and the fact you never see his face. He is also one of the few characters who actually ages in real time, as the reader gets to see his stern view of the world slowly erode as he confronts middle age and beyond.
Why then is it important for me to be mentioning these things in a review of the Stallone starring film of the same name? Well because the film pretty much bollocks it all up right from the get go! This will not just be a look at how the film differs from the comic book, oh no I will be attempting to dissect all aspects of this turd!
The year is 2080 and the world is screwed.
Most of it is a radioactive dirt pile where mutants and misfits live while the rest of humanity lives in Mega-Cities (essentially huge, over grounded sky scrapers). New law enforcement is required meaning out with the police and in with the Judges. They make the decision on the spot regarding your criminality. So far so good in terms of comic book relevance and also a good intro to this new and futuristic world. So let’s fast forward to the main part of the film.
It is now 2139 and here we go folks this is where it all starts to fall apart. Judge Hershey is requiring assistance in a full on block war. With regards to this scene the block war itself is pretty good. In the comics the tensions of everyday life for the citizens means one slight by their neighbour can result in an epic throw down. Here it does look quite chaotic and the citizens are packing heat and look quite menacing (if a bit campy and OTT).
Mega-City One in the comic is this spiralling array of huge towers and floating cars. For the most part the film achieves this with some nice CGI and practical landscapes. I especially liked the Chopper reference from the comics which can be seen on the Statute of Liberty face. What I could not help noticing though were the similarities to Blade Runner (1982) and Super Mario Brothers (1993). While Demolition Man (1993) may be the main influence for the cars and tech here, the city combines elements from the other two films to give a mish match futuristic city.
It seems to rain a lot here (where the Blade Runner reference comes in) and the city itself does look like the city from Super Mario even down to its citizens which wear those kinda strange punk like suits all futuristic people wore in 1990s sci-fi flicks. The citizens in the comics are so eclectic and weird I feel a real trick was lost here to make this film stand out more by giving us some odd looking bystanders.
So Dredd arrives as the backup and this is the moment when I imagine comic fans hearts dropped. He drives in on a bike which is very comic book influenced. Sadly this makes it look incredibly impractical and through most of this scene it looks like the bike is going to fall over due to all the weight on it. This applies to Stallone to as he seems really uncomfortable in his black tight top and massive eagle shoulder pad. As an adaption of the comic it is again very well done. But it looks so cumbersome and Stallone looks like he is struggling with it for a lot of this movie.
He just looks like he is struggling in general if I am honest.
The dialogue seems to get stuck in his throat and the comic book catch phrases sound just slightly off.
Dredd bursts in the thick of it spouting said comic catch phrases and sadly his own (“I knew you were going to say that”). His own in particular makes it incredibly grating and does not seem to fit his character. It is almost like he thinks he is in Demolition Man 2. He plays Dredd in a very similar way to John Spartan. But where John Spartan was a hard ass cop in the wrong time, Dredd is a by the book lawgiver of his own time. They do not gel well.
Also he sticks his chin out. A lot.
Now Dredd as stated has a massive chin, but to see Stallone gurning his chin out in every scene strangely takes you out of the picture.
Dredd blows away most of the rabble in some nice action scenes mirroring the Lawgivers different bullet types in the comic and gets it all under control. Cue some weird flirting between him and Hershey which sadly is in all of their scenes together. Their sexual chemistry and flirting is completely out of character for Judges in the comic where it’s illegal. I wish it was illegal here, because there is no chemistry between them and watching them together makes you make a face much akin to sucking on a really sour sweet.
To make it worse this is where Rob Schneider as Fergee comes into play. We already had him as our gateway into Mega-City one as he re-enters the city (in an excellent scene) after doing time. He is caught up in the block war and arrested yet again leading to him becoming Dredd’s buddy later on in the film.
Now Rob Schneider is an acquired taste at the best of times, but I could not get over how different he is from the comic book counterpart. None comic readers would not know this, but Fergee is a massive baseball wielding hulk in the comic who may be slightly slow in the brain department, which he makes up for in his warm heart. He first appears in The Cursed Earth saga (elements of that plot appear in the film). But here he is another annoying comic relief insert which again gets a bit tiresome after a while.
I can look at the character objectively if he was well written. But this is the role Schneider has played pretty much his whole life and if you don’t like it then this is not the character you want to be rooting for. Good look finding one to root for as most of the cast are about as well written for as cardboard cut outs would be.
Judge Griffin (who is evil here, but in the comic is for a while Chief Judge and Dredd supporter) sets a power play in motion. Releasing Dredd’s clone brother Rico (a by the numbers bad guy performance by Armand Assante who is very intense but not all that interesting) to help him get rid of the council of Judges and put himself in power. He gives him a lawgiver gun and sets him on his way to frame Dredd.
In the comic Rico has a messed up face due to him being enhanced to work on mining planets in outer space. Here he is a pretty boy villain. Shame a scar or two may have helped add some much needed character depth.
As he is a clone brother of Dredd he leaves his DNA on the bullets when he commits a murder and gets Dredd sent off to a penal colony with his soon to be best friend Fergee sitting next to him. Dredd’s trial involves him not having his mask on which infuriated comic fans, but did not bother anyone else.
So basically just ticked me off!
When I watched it the first time I was furious, but now I can watch it in context. I mean its Stallone for goodness sake, they aint going to get him to keep his helmet on for all of the movie.
Comic book views aside I do feel this ruins a big part of Dredd’s mystique.
In the comics he is never seen without his helmet and no one really knows what he looks like. It makes him the embodiment of the law. Justice is blind and this covering of Dredd's face in the comics helps to embody this. Nit picking really as it’s a big budget movie which would not have been made without a star like Stallone. But the teenage version of me watching this was furious!
A lot of exposition goes on here so to break it down quickly Lawgivers (guns) are DNA encoded to each Judge (true in the comics) while the DNA bullet issue I am not too sure about, but hey it’s not the worst thing here so let’s go with it. The Judges council lead by Chief Judge Fargo (who Dredd is cloned from) is played by Max Von Sydow who is given little to do but die later on.
All the Judges here are from the comic so props to that. But they are all brutally murdered as part of Griffins plot.
In the comic series The Day the Law Died Judge Caligula becomes the Chief Judge and is insane. He kills off or belittles the Judges council and frames Dredd so the whole Justice Department is after him. This film takes a lot of cues from this part of the story which is actually great and makes it feel more like a Dredd story.
To cap this off the Chief Judges resigns and takes the long walk, a walk into the cursed earth to dispense law to the lawless (again in the comic). Griffin becomes the new Chief Judge and gets Rico out on the streets running a mock with his newly acquired robot. The robot in question is Hammerstein form the ABC Warriors another 2000 AD series. The ABC Warriors became army troops and it is this Hammerstein incarnation that comes to life on the screen. The robot is incredibly well adapted in design, if not in character. However it becomes quite clear they never really finished his design as you see very little of his legs, only his head and shoulders in fact, ruining the menace of this great robot.
In one of the best scenes in the movie the Angel gang shoot down the ship over the cursed earth and Dredd has to fight them off. In this film they are cannibals, but as I recall in the comics they are just bad asses. They are comic perfect and also just great screen villains milking their scenes for all they are worth.
Mean Machine especially looks incredible and it is a shame this scene does not go on longer as it is the best piece of the movie.
Fargo reappears again and then dies telling Dredd about the cloning scheme called the Janus project. This is an interesting divergence from the comic as in the comic the cloning procedure is used to make new Judges from the elite Judges they have because of staffing issues. In this Dredd universe cloning seems to be a more illegal affair instead of it been common knowledge. It is a nice twist to use in the movie to explain the plot development. Griffin wants more Judges on the streets so he is going to clone them. In the comic he would be praised, here he is reviled. Clones are evil don’t you now.
So Griffin is getting his cloning scheme set up with a sexy Japanese scientist who either loves or hates Rico. There is definitely some S and M style flirting between them. She is only there for Rico to flirt with and offers little to the story. She is a cloning scientist surely the script could have given her something to do other than flirt, drop some exposition and have a little fight scene before departing? By this time Rico has caused enough chaos that the Janus files are in Griffins possession and the council are all dead (as they were only there as extra access to the Janus files). Rico uses his DNA for the clones so he can live forever or some other guff.
Quite frankly I forgot by this point what his motivations are!
Fergee, Hershey (who has cracked the cloning case to) and Dredd get back into the city. Dredd goes bananas and kills a load of his fellow Judges who were just doing their jobs. In The Day the Law Died when the Judges were forced to do Chief Judge Cal’s bidding Dredd did not enjoy killing his fellow Judges and felt remorse (well as much as he could). Here Dredd kills them like it’s going out of fashion.
Dredd in this movie is a bit of a dick actually.
Earlier on he blows a dudes car up because he had a shitty attitude and poor Fergee is off to a penal colony because he got arrested for busting a robot up.
Not cool Dredd.
Dredd gets to the cloning lab, but Griffin is already dead killed by the ABC warrior on Rico orders. Well that was a shocker hey! Sloppy clones (which would make a great band name) attack Dredd, but he beats them all and in the second Blade Runner reference of the day Rico and Dredd fight atop The Statue of Liberty in the rain and Rico (a clone) falls to his death.
The cities super computer shows the city in an Ex-Machina way that Dredd is innocent and he can get back to work. He is offered the Chief Judge position (he refuses much like in the comics) and gets back to work, but not before having a cheeky snog with Hershey which ticked me off no end.
Director Danny Cannon has shoe horned Judge Dredd into a buddy cop movie and it just does not work.
To be fair he was just following the formula of the time.
Stern Judge Dredd needs to lighten up and seem more human then bang him with a comedy side kick and a love interest, give him a catch phrase and send the people home happy.
But they were not happy, the film was a flop.
This film sits on the fence. Nowadays we are spoilt by comic book adaptions. The studios have given us perfect representations of these comic book stars. If you are doing Dredd you needed to either go full on violence and social commentary to not only attract the cinema goers, but to appease the comic book fans. Or the other route would be a softer Sci-Fi romp. But when you take a property like Dredd certain expectations are there and by trying to mix both of these means it fails to excite anyone. Maybe Dredd is just not ready for the big screen?
Dredd the 2012 reboot though better in tone and feel of the character still did not engage audiences as expected (which is a shame as it was awesome), but at least they dug their heels in and gave us that grittiness.
The comic homages were not all that prevalent, but the character was, well, a character not a carbon copy of an action hero.
Stallone’s Dredd movie with its great special effects and gun play filters in pieces for the fans, but fails to nail down the characters who are all over the place. It’s a shame as this could have been one of the first of the new breed of films to really get to grips with the comic book characters. Instead it is quite a slog to get through and even when stuff is exploding you may be checking your phone.