Dredd came at a time when Hollywood was all agog with remakes of movies from action superstars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone and while I was pretty lukewarm about the new version of Total Recall (which I have yet to catch on video), I was interested to see how Karl Urban (RED, Doom, Star Trek) would fare as Judge Dredd, a character brought to life by Rocky himself in 1995.
The film returns to Megacity One, a combination of the remains of the old society and futuristic structures called megablocks, where order is kept by the Justice Department manned by Judges, who act as judge, jury and executioners. On a day when Dredd is tasked to assess a rookie judge named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), whose psychic abilities make her a potential asset of the department, they respond to a triple homicide on Peachtree, a megablock operated and controlled by a ruthless gang leader called Mama (Lena Headey), who uses the building as the manufacturing base of a new drug called Slowmo, which gives druggies the illusion of being suspended in time once they take a hit. Upon learning that one of her lieutenants has been captured for interrogation, Mama locks down the building and sics her dogs at the judges before they discover the extent of her multi-million business operation.
Personally, I thought that Judge Dredd was a passable reboot of the 90s cult classic but still, it lacked the impact of the original. The new version may have been inspired by the Indonesian action hit The Raid: Redemption as the plot pretty much echoed the Asian movie. While Raid involved a team of special ops to storm an apartment building full of criminals and gang members, Dredd and his rookie sidekick were likewise trapped inside the building and made as human targets of every criminal in Mama’s control — all 200 floors of them. There were also similar scenes from both movies — the only difference is that Dredd uses more modern weapons and Raid’s best scenes were actually its hand to hand combat sequences featuring the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat.
As for the acting, I was having a bit of trouble with Karl Urban’s perpetual scowl. I think the problem was not because he was trying to mimic Stallone or the comic book character but because the costumes and the setting was downsized majorly compared to the original. The original setting was more flamboyant, making the feel of devastation more real. But now, since it was combined with old skyscrapers to give a sense of a hybrid city, it did not seem as much a futuristic wasteland as Stallone’s Dredd movie.On top of that, the 2012 judge’s uniforms looked like regular SWAT outfits save for helmet compared to the flashy chrome thingamajigs accentuating the 1995’s judges’ plain black outfits. Also, the facial structure of Karl Urban, who has a rather strong jaw, did not complement the helmet the way Sly’s face with his strong chin did for his version of the helmet.
All in all, the main difference between the two movies was that the 1995 Judge Dredd was about the character. The updated version did not place Dredd in the front and center but rather made it about the rookie and how Dredd helped shape her into a worthy Judge. It did not even expound on the opening about Dredd’s backstory, which could have been interesting and provided the character with a new dimension. Plus, he deserved it because he was in the title role. Duh!
Technically, the movie had a solid story and good execution, but not enough to make people remember Karl Urban as Dredd. It was passable but it was not as epic as the original, which I still remember 13 years after it was first released. As a standalone, it was a good sci-fi/action movie but since it bears the brunt of being compared to an original, it only comes at a far second.