File under things I never expected to care about, but as release day came around my old-school 2000AD fannishness began reasserting itself and I found myself really wanting to like the Judge Dredd movie.
Dredd is a strange fit for movie adaptation. The material resists action movie cliche, as the Danny Cannon-directed, Sylvester Stallone-starring 1990s feature film showed. That earlier attempt played up the goofiness of the concept and turned down the volume on the fascism. Instead of a jackbooted agent of order, Stallone’s Dredd was a wisecracking street cop working to clean up the system in the name of truth, justice and a buddy comedy plot with Rob Schneider.
So are things different this time around? Do the filmmakers manage to bring our Thatcher-era nightmares to vivid cinematic life? Do we get a story about incorruptible, totalitarian lawmakers whose brutal instant justice is all that prevents the vast surplus population of Mega-City One from erupting into savage chaos?
Just about, yeah. Karl Urban is a suitably hard-faced badass Dredd and the tower block setting of the movie brings with it about as much nihilism as you could hope for. This adaptation also takes the fantastical elements in the opposite direction from the irony-free zaniness of the Cannon version: its notional narcotic Slo-Mo is a more realistic take on the staple Dredd theme of crime waves based on bizarre fads, which in the printed version often involve things like the Judges being replaced by alien crocodiles or citizens encasing themselves in bubbles of plastic to become human pinballs.
Also, where Stallone’s Dredd was a sort of low-wattage Byronic hero who has a learning experience, here director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland resist the impulse to humanise the character — although they back off a bit on making him as completely unlikeable as he often is in the comics. There’s an early scene where he saves a woman from being held hostage at gunpoint which had me waiting in vain for him to then pronounce sentence on the victim for some ludicrous legal infraction: “Hold it, citizen! Those earrings are two millimetres over regulation length. Three years in the iso-cubes!” (My own completely inconsequential fannish disappointment centred around Dredd’s Lawmaster bike, which looks like a tricked out standard motorcycle in this version, as opposed to the massively wide-wheeled high speed steamroller he rides in 2000AD. The design of the bike would be the one thing I prefer about the original film, if only they hadn’t also given it the ability to fly.)
I really enjoyed Dredd. It’s a better cinematic take on the source material than anyone really had a right to expect and it almost totally placated my inner fan, who at this very moment is hoping the film makes a profit and we get an even more fascistic sequel.