Don’t Judge Dredd (3D)

1995. A teenaged Martin Leggett excitedly anticipated the film version of Judge Dredd. Since I was a nipper my dad had ensured that the greatness of the anthology comic 2000 AD was a part of my life. I partook of Ace Trucking Company, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper, Nemesis the Warlock and most famously – Judge Dredd. I did not get the subtexts or even a lot of the premise of the comic at that young age, that apocalyptic conditions had forced what was left of the worlds’ populations were crammed into these gigantic Mega Cities. With buildings that reached so high into the sky and the masses crammed into such small spaces made Tokyo look like some frozen tundra somewhere in the former Soviet Union. This mass of humanity suffers from poverty causing massive amounts of crime, gangland wars and riots between blocks. Dredd and his ilk are called Judges because the justice system has been pared down to them with carrying out on-the-spot judgement and punishment, often ending with somebody getting a bullet in them. Judge Dredd was the most dedicated and driven of all the Judges in what was essentially a barely-contained fascist police state with a massive underclass and disgustingly rich and opulent upper class. Given that’s your hero it gives you an idea of the level of villainy on display here, even reaching into the realms of the supernatural. I on the other hand was just a kid who thought the Lawmaster was the coolest motorcycle ever, the Lawgiver was the second coolest gun (after Robocop’s) and Judge Dredd was a total badass.

I was 15 when the Judge Dredd movie was released. I ate up every bit of hype, every picture, seeing the trailer had me at a fever pitch as it showed Mega City One come to life right before my eyes. I bought a Judge Dredd movie t-shirt, I bought the soundtrack on tape and I’ll be quite honest, I ate the movie up too. So absorbed was I in seeing this character come to life I was able to see past all of the extreme silliness, the terrible costumes and the terrible plot. Two things I was never cool with, Stallone’s appalling delivery of the classic “I am the law” catchphrase and the fact that he took off the helmet. That was inexcusable and considering that Stallone claimed to love the source material made it all the more galling. But outside of my fanboyish haze the film was a commercial and critical failure. It’s a terrible movie, I have it on right now while I’m writing this. The combination of the words “Rob Schneider” and “comic relief sidekick” were formed from the mouth of Satan himself centuries ago, the career of Armande Assante – here playing rogue Judge Rico – might very well itself have similarly unholy origins (my bet is the Free Masons). The Judge’s uniforms emphasized all of the wrong elements, giving Dredd absurd shiny gold shoulder pads and a fucking codpiece, the rest of his costume made out of some sort of bulletproof lycra. The helmets were the only thing the costume designers didn’t completely foul up so of course Dredd takes his off after ten minutes. The Angel Gang show up! They are almost perfect reproductions of the comic versions, they’re in the movie for maybe ten minutes. Steven E. de Souza wrote this debacle and despite his involvement with the likes of Die Hard in the past, he was clearly running on fumes at this point in his career. The previous year saw the release of Street Fighter: the Movie which he both wrote and directed and his next credit would be writing Knock Off. Not heard of it? Not a surprise as it stars Jean Claude Van Damme as a fashion designer who must team up with undercover FBI agent Rob Schneider to take out a ring of bootleggers. Yes, JCVD was kicking the asses of people who were making knock off jeans.

No fan of Judge Dredd could possibly argue this is a good movie a straight face. This film deserves all of this derision, all of the hate, but the character of Judge Dredd does not! Even though 2000 AD is only for the most hardcore of comic fans in the States, it has a proud tradition in the United Kingdom dating back to 1976. Pat Mills was developing what would become 2000 AD when he brought on old writing partner John Wagner to help create characters. Wagner had the idea of taking a tough Dirty Harry-style character but to take him to the extreme. Writers and artists would come and go but Judge Dredd would continue to exist in 2000 AD and starting in the early 90’s the Judge Dredd Megazine would give the fans additional Dredd as well as other strips and characters. A proud tradition of being in print for over thirty years greatly outweighs one ill-conceived movie from the mid-90’s. People were willing to give The Incredible Hulk a do-over in 2008 after Ang Lee’s Hulk was (unfairly) maligned by both critics and audiences alike just five years previously. The Amazing Spider-Man was a hasty reboot of the franchise that “only” made a quarter-billion dollars domestically. Judge Dredd may not have the recognition of those Marvel characters but imagine if non-American audiences only knew Spider-Man from the dreadful late-70’s TV show? Hardly a fair assessment.

Do you recall when X-Men: First Class came out? Brett Ratner was smarting at criticisms levelled at his film X-Men: The Last Stand by Matthew Vaughn and others. In retaliation he crowed about how his movie made more in it’s opening weekend than First Class did. What escaped this arrogant prat was that people stayed home not because his film was good, quite the opposite and that his Last Stand had been a crushing disappointment and harmed the X-Men franchise thus leading to smaller box office numbers for the vastly superior First Class. With a confident lead like Karl Urban in the lead role, a screenplay from Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, The Beach) and a darker more violent tone, not to mention a ton of buzz from convention screenings, Judge Dredd is still THE LAW.

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