Early reports from Brit-Cit indicate that Karl Urban is a convincing Dredd. But to be truly authentic he would have marched off the set, interrupted the filming of The Expendables 2, and arrested Sylvester Stallone for impersonating a judge. This would have meant Judge Dredd fighting through Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger; it have been the greatest action movie of all time, and that still wouldn’t make up for the 1995 movie.
Judge Dredd is the ultimate embodiment of the law, but in the mid-’90s the law was that comic book movies sucked. A law Sylvester Stallone upheld.
1. Removing The Helmet
For a few glorious moments it looks like it might work. Mega-City One is fantastically grimy and the Judges are accurate to their original uniforms, although when someone asked “How can we avoid the comic book shiny uniforms looking stupid in the filthy dystopia?” the unfortunate answer was “Crotch armor!”
But they’ve got Lawmasters, Lawgivers, and if you ignore how the entire human race seems to have evolved thirty centimeters shorter to let Stallone look intimidating it almost works. But watching this movie is just like being a veteran judge: the instant you see his face you know the crime he’s committed. Because that crime is showing us his face.
We’d have rather seen Medusa’s, because at least then we’d have died without seeing Dredd screwed up so badly. It made more sense for Darth Vader to take his helmet off, and that killed him.
Giving Judge Dredd a comedy sidekick is like giving human beings a tail: it was tried a long time ago and we got rid of it because it didn’t work. And looks stupid. The original Dredd had Walter the Wobot, a whining wobot with a speech impediment, and despite sounding like something the future would invent in order to punish comedy it was still better than Rob Schneider.
This humor ruins everything it touches. In the comics the Lawmaster is the judge’s motorbike. It looks like a tank knocked up a Harley and it beat both of them before leaving home to find someone tough enough to ride it. It’s what the Batpod wants to be when it grows up.
In the comics its the ultimate expression of judicial attitude: they ride around without any protection from the street crime, because they are protection from street crime. In the movies it’s comic relief, sputtering and malfunctioning and not working right. Meaning that when Stallone was riding around with his armored crotch pressed against a broken bike, he was literally screwing the perfect metaphor for how he screwed the movie.
3. Being Stallone
I still love Sylvester Stallone, because when you make both Rambo and Rocky you’re legally allowed to suck for almost a decade and still stay partially badass. Which is lucky, because that’s his entire marketing plan for The Expendables. There was a period – about twenty minutes long towards the end of Rambo — when Stallone could conceivably have been Dredd, the ultimate expression of lethally trained madness adhering to extremist principles. This movie did not star that Stallone. This movie starred the Stallone who made Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot.
Then he opens his mouth, and it stars that Stallone with the one from Rocky V. The one with permanent brain damage. Stallone’s unique vocal style has always looked at least part-stroke, but when he yells “AHM… THELLAW!” you realize that crotch-armor was added to prevent public incontinence.
But maybe it’s not his fault? Maybe he was railroaded by greedy executives? Nope. Given thirteen years to reflect on how badly he’d done, Stallone told Uncut magazine “It didn’t live up to what it could have been. It probably should have been much more comic, really humorous, and fun. What I learned out of that experience was that we shouldn’t have tried to make it Hamlet; it’s more Hamlet and Eggs.” His only regret is that they should have made more jokes. Jokes like “Hamlet and Eggs”, at which point I assume the interviewer started humming the Rocky theme to prevent himself from stabbing Sly with his pen.
4. Explosive Ending
Armand Assante played Rico, a crazed clone of Dredd you first meet softly towelling beads of moisture from his smouldering skin, and he only gets less threatening from there. Previous starring roles included Passion and Paradise, Stranger in my Bed and The Mambo Kings, meaning his only crimes were stealing…your heart. He wasn’t so much a brooding incarnation of justice perverted by punishment as “about the same height as Stallone” and “available.”
The movie doesn’t end because the good guys do anything; it ends because the explosive charges wired to detonate eighty minutes into any lazy action movie decided it should. The final explosions happen for so little reason they make the Big Bang look like obvious cause and effect. Rico orders the cloning system to release the clones early, which should have thrown up some undercooked naked bodies. Instead the system hears “COMPUTER! THE SCRIPTWRITER WANTS TO HAVE A NAP NOW! END MOVIE!”
5. Wasted Opportunities
A bad Judge Dredd is a worse missed opportunity for action movies than John McClane deciding to stay home for Christmas. The movie had more potential than everything Nikola Tesla ever built, but was destroyed so badly you’d swear it was directed by Edison. Mean Machine Angel, the evil clone Judda, even reaching out to into other comics with an ABC Warrior, and you can actually feel the moment those words were handed from a researcher to an executive and their souls evaporated.
The scriptwriters took a guaranteed hit and missed the point so broadly we could dump them on incoming asteroids to save the Earth. This is revealed in Stallone’s very first “tough” moment. Arresting the recently-released Schneider and sending him back to prison, in a heroic attempt to get him out of the movie, Dredd explains that he could have jumped out of the fortieth-floor window. Told this would be suicide, Dredd responds “It’s legal”, which is about as badass as holding a machine gun the wrong way round: you’ve got something which can kick ass but are dangerously incapable of using it.
One of Dredd’s greatest comic scenes is screaming his Lawmaster down a near vertical plunge to save the citizen who leapt to his death, while yelling “NO LITTERING!” This man will risk his life to save yours just to arrest it.
In one line the scriptwriters prove that they haven’t even read any Dredd comics. As far as they know he’s just a future cop who wears a helmet, which makes it even stupider that they forgot half of that research in writing the movie. It’s a tragedy because Demolition Man was already a movie about Stallone going into the future, not knowing how things work, and wiping his own ass with important pieces of paper he didn’t care about.