Dredd: How it Helped the Demand for Darker Comic Book Movies – MovieWeb

In 2012’s Dredd, the unforgiving street judge paved the way for grim comic book adaptations.
Before there was Robocop and Terminator, there was the cold-hearted and stone-faced law enforcer Judge Dredd. He was a recurring character in the anthologized British science fiction comic magazine 2000 AD beginning in 1977. The godfather of British comics, editor and writer Pat Mills, was joined by his writing partner, John Wagner, to develop characters and stories for the comic strip. Wagner had written for the discontinued Valiant comics, producing the hardened detective "One-Eyed Jack" inspired by Dirty Harry. Wagner wanted a similar cop character that took the law to a further extreme.
Judge Dredd was modeled after the dystopian gladiator-racer Frankenstein from the 1975 film Death Race 2000. Artist Carlos Ezquerra gave the hero his signature red and gold Spanish flair in a blackened, seedy future. With each issue, Judge Dredd slowly came out of the woodwork and became the main protagonist. Predictions like mass surveillance and police states, anti-establishment groups, corrupt politics and fascist rule of law, and even a global pandemic have made the street judge a darkly prophetic and ironic satirical character. Dredd led the way for the edgier comic book films like Deadpool, Logan, and Joker, using subtle but poignant commentary and cinematography.
Judge Dredd was first adapted in the self-titled 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone as the judicial officer. Critics panned the cliché-ridden script, departing from the source material, and the cookie-cutter acting from Stallone, courtesy of his many action flicks. Audiences praised the cyberpunk visuals and stunt sequences, however, such as the famous multifunctional Lawgiver handgun. Stallone's appearance is that of a walking, talking keychain in his armor. The word "law" and other repeated lines get passed around so much in Judge Dredd that they lose their meaning halfway through the film. Perhaps the most important law was broken within the first 15 minutes: Judge Dredd removes his helmet and reveals his face. In the comics, his identity is never shown to express how faceless Justice is. As an adaptation, and for the time, it can't be judged too harshly. How does it plea? Guilty (pleasure).
2012's Dredd follows the emotionless devotee of the law again, this time in a dilapidated, near-future setting. Realism stops with a more stylized depiction of violence, a mix of the atmosphere from Blade Runner and the ruthlessness from A Clockwork Orange. The armor Judge Dredd wears is a practical uniform for intense situations compared to the comic's cumbersome golden shoulder pads. Judge Dredd had a plot that placed an overbearing emphasis on the law in a comic book world while Dredd took a comic book world, and established its law for a grisly, plausible future.
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Both adaptations take place in the year 2080. A dysfunctional society lives in the fallout city of Mega-City One, where crime is rampant and frontier justice reins supreme. The only equalizers are its Judges upholding their established order in a forgotten world. In the no man's land, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is joined by new recruit Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who possess psychic intuition (not the aimless and criminal comedic relief of Rob Schneider in 1995) and gets a lead on a drug operation inside a 200-story high-rise.
Drug lord Madeline "Ma-Ma" Madrigal (Lena Headey) controls the building where she pushes Slo-Mo, a substance that slows down the user's perception of time to one percent of the speed. She traps Judge Dredd and Anderson as they climb and fight their way up to Ma-Ma. Dredd doesn't have much satire in the film. One plot point revolves around corrupt cops rather than wrong convictions (Stallone's evil genetic brother by cloning frames him for murder to unsurprising effect) and it gets resolved with a fight here and a shootout there. The action speaks for itself without reading you your rights. Judges uphold and enforce the law, even if it means killing for the greater good, while pedestrians turn to crime just to get by. Rules are being broken as fast as they're being established, making the adaptation unpredictably dark.
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Judge Dredd has no remorse for the guilty. Wrong is wrong and deserves punishment. The little satire that there is comes from the safety and Big Brother judicial control the Judges have and don't have over the citizens of Mega-City One. For example, Judge Dredd negotiates with a hostile, and when he decides negotiations are over, he calls the thug "Hot Shot" which activates the ammunition that locks on and sets fire to the target's body heat. Karl Urban looks the part as judge, jury, and executioner, with his gritty, by-the-book performance, perfectly representing the robotic reasoning of the justice system.
Two other moments stand out the most. How Ma-Ma gets a taste of her own medicine wasn't mercy; her fall from grace, to her mind, was forever, but in real time was only seconds to the ground. For Judge Dredd, this was the letter of the law. When Anderson was disarmed in the line of duty, Judge Dredd spared her in his evaluation before the Chief Judge, saying she is Judge material. For Judge Dredd, this was the spirit of the law. Dredd shows that the law can be unforgiving as much as it can change. The seesaw of morality Dredd offers (something that will raise the stakes in a sequel) carved an ambiguous path of morality that made comic book movies darker for the better.
Brent is an author, educator, and freelancer from Lake Mary, FL. He was born in his local Blockbuster, teething on action, horror, and science fiction VHS tapes. Today, he runs his business, Wiggins’ Words, as an editor, tutor, and poet on demand.


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