When adapting a book into a movie, it’s important to show respect to the original story. You don’t have to follow it slavishly, but you also shouldn’t do anything that shows you never bothered to read the book.
It’s a lesson that the makers of Judge Dredd learned the hard way in 1995 when, contrary to the original comic books, they showed the title character removing his mask, and were instantly rejected by the fans. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but in doing so, it showed fans of the comics that the filmmakers didn’t love the books as much as they should’ve. (That the film also had a cliché script, bad jokes, and Rob Schneider didn’t help matters.)
It’s also a lesson the makers of the new Dredd seemed to have learned as well, though smartly before they made their film. Not only does the man keep his helmet on the whole time, but the movie also takes as gritty and brutal an approach to this dystopian story as, you guessed it, the original comics.
In Mega-City One, which stretches from Boston to Washington D.C., the peace is kept by Judges, one-stop shops for justice who serve as the police, the courts, and, when necessary, the executioners. Of these, the toughest is Judge Dredd, who’s like a cross between Dirty Harry and The Punisher if both followed the rules like Ned Flanders.
In the film, Dredd (played by Karl Urban from The Lord of the Rings) is tasked with giving a field exam to a rookie Judge named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby from Juno). But when they investigate a murder at a high rise that’s under the control of a drug lord called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey from Game Of Thrones), things go from bad to worse faster than anyone can defiantly growl, “I am the law.”
Directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point) and written by Alex Garland (28 Days Later) — both of whom, like the creators of the original comic, are British — Dredd plays out like a cross between the original Die Hard and The Raid: Redemption, but with a decidedly more raw and brutal approach. If anything, this looks and feels much more like an ’80s action flick in how it’s not shy about getting bloody, and sometimes even relishes the gore. Which just drives home the idea that Travis, Garland, and other people working in the film have clearly read the comics.
This goes for Urban as well, whose voice never rises above a low rumble, even when spouting one of the movies dark jokes. Though his performance will be the one that could put people off. He’s such a sourpuss, and a number of his lines are so dour, that some might think he and the rest of the movie is so bad that it’s unintentionally funny. Though only if they’ve never read the books either.
For her part, Thirlby serves as a great partner for Dredd, as she’s neither a damsel in distress nor the comic relief. In fact, she so holds her own that she almost steal the movie away from Urban the way Scarlett Johansson stole The Avengers and Anne Hathaway stole The Dark Knight Rises. And the same could also be said for Headey, who is as much of a sadistic bitch as she is in Thrones. She’s just a lot less subtle about it here.
In the end, though, Dredd isn’t as effortless and exciting as the Iron Man, X-Men, or animated Batman movies. But then, I say this as someone who’s not as big a fan of Judge Dredd as a character as I am Iron Man, X-Men, and Batman. For those who are, or anyone who appreciates the brutality of an ’80s-style action movie, though, Dredd is a solid and engaging thrill ride, one that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. Which, for people who love the original books, is very respectable.