September 27, 2012 -- If you are familiar with the original movie based on this character, “Judge Dredd (1995),” you were probably surprised to see this new film, based on the same character, getting good reviews. “Judge Dredd” was a bad film, while the new 2012 3D film is a good one.
Although both films are based on the 2000AD comic strip character Judge Dredd, the new film is much more impressive stylistically with flashy graphics, unusual special effects and impressive slow-motion cinematography. The basic story is not futuristic at all. It is just another version of “High Noon” with an outnumbered, fearless lawman going up against a bunch of lawless thugs amidst an indifferent populace. He can't expect to get any help in this fight, except from his rookie partner.
Judge Dredd is played by Karl Urban (“The Bourne Supremecy”) although there is no way to tell who it is because you never see his face. The helmet worn by Judge Dredd is a huge problem in the film because you cannot see the actor's face. It could be anyone playing this character. This is the sort of thing you usually see in cheap action movies with a bunch of faceless hooded villains. This allows the filmmakers to “kill” the same villain over and over in the film without anyone being the wiser and without having to pay for more actors.
In this particular case, however, the helmet is part of the traditional Judge Dredd outfit. Reportedly, this is why Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to play Judge Dredd in the original film, because a similar helmet was to be used in that one, too (in the end, I think the Sylvester Stallone, who played Judge Dredd, got the filmmakers to allow his face to be seen). Most actors would object to wearing a costume which conceals his face for the entire length of the film. It took some courage for Karl Urban to take this role. Dredd's rookie telepathic partner, Anderson (played by Olivia Thirlby of “Juno”) doesn't wear a helmet because it would allegedly interfere with her telepathic abilities. Of course it wouldn't, but it would sure interfere with her sex appeal.
One more thing about the stupid Judge Dredd helmet. There is a kind of “X” design which ends directly over the eyes, so it would be very difficult to see out of this helmet under normal circumstances. Most of the film's action takes place inside a huge tenement building with a skylight and open core. It is like an urban ghetto inside, completely ruled by a drug lord called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”).
A triple homicide brings Judge Dredd and Anderson to this ghetto, where they are trapped inside and targeted for death when they capture a gang member and learn to many of Ma-Ma's secrets. The running “Die-Hard” battle between Judge Dredd, Anderson and Ma-Ma's minions takes up most of the film. When Ma-Ma starts running out of minions and Judge Dredd refuses to die, she calls in four crooked judges who agree to kill Judge Dredd for a lot of money. This confuses things more because you can't see their faces, either.
In the future these Judges, like Dredd, act as police, judges, juries, lawyers and executioners, all rolled into one. It does speed the criminal justice system up a lot, but it is too much power to entrust to one person, especially if Judges can be so easily corrupted, as they are in this film. In the original comic strip, Judges are not born, they are cloned, which makes more sense than to trust to ordinary recruitment methods.
This film has a great deal of violence in it, including torture. Then there are the helmet problems, but the story is solid and the visuals are stunning. The 3D effects are also very good. It is a great-looking film. It has a kind of gritty realistic quality as well. Judge Dredd also has a kind of admirable rationality, level-headedness and incorruptibility, like a certain well-known Robocop. This film rates a B.
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