On the whole the British comics industry has a wider reputation for humour than for action. Very few British comic action heroes have entered the public consciousness over the years. Of this elite few only Dan Dare and Judge Dredd have stood the real test of time, with 2000AD’s flagship character arguably taking the top spot in recent history. Dredd and his world are ideally suited for the big screen treatment and after the Stallone debacle of 1995 the cinema going public has been ready for an improved offering.
The question is, how does the 2012 offering compare to its distant 1995 cousin. First appearances are good as Karl Urban banishes Stallone’s wooden and awkward offering. Urban is Dredd, he nails the character completely and even the most difficult fans will be hard pressed to find fault with his performance. Equally Olivia Thirlby is excellent as Judge Anderson and the chemistry between the two leads is believable.
However the rest of the film asks a lot of the fans to suspend their disbelief. These two wonderfully portrayed actors are dropped into a world, which patently isn’t Mega City One. Very little is shown to illustrate that this is a future city in a science fiction world. In fact in many scenes the film appears to be set in some kind of 70’s crime thriller than in a future shock. It is well documented that films such as Dirty Harry inspired the creation of Judge Dredd, however it is unwise to draw more on this than from the comic itself. Cars and camper vans which seem dated to 21st century eyes drive around on drab tarmaced roads and viewers are supposed to believe that this is a future metropolis. There is even a scene set in a skateboard half pipe, which sets the more comfortably in the past.
Alex Garland ignores much of Dredd’s rich history. There is no room for fatties, uglies, aliens, robots, sky surfers and bat gliders in his story. Sadly though, he also ignores plot twists, surprises and original ideas too. Instead Garland provides a standard, linear drugs lord bust plot, which would sit happily in many film genre. The story is not the usual fare which fans of Dredd have come to expect and is suspiciously short or the dark humour which has made the Judge famous worldwide. Dredd and his fellow Judges are a thin black line, which stops the mad world of Mega City One spilling over in to full insanity, a madness that is unfortunately lacking in the film version. This clash of dour, stony-faced stoicism against neon coloured insanity has become the staple and selling point of the comic over 35 years and could easily be realised on the big screen.
Unfortunately the weakest point of the film is that it manages to, however accidentally, exclude its core fan base. Judge Dredd has always been, and always will be, violent and its core to its being. However in the comics there is a thick streak of dark humour to accompany this. This has meant that in comic form the audience has tended to be wider and ‘all age’. By upping the less humorous aspects of the violence the censors were forced to give Dredd an 18 rating and thus rule out swathes of loyal teenage fans. A situation that has meant that box office takings were considerably down on forecasts, while DVD and Blue Ray sales have benefited by comparison. Even then for most prospective viewers it may even be worth waiting until Dredd hits the bargain bins.