Being the type of person who tends to enjoy grey characters, non-typical storytelling, and older printed material it's no surprise that I frequent the back corner boxes of my local comic book shops, and have for years. In those boxes I often find the books that the fans of Marvel and DC take for granted. Through those boxes I've found bits of colorful material from Slave Labor Graphics, old Darkhorse titles, Hernandez Brothers' work, stuff from Daniel Clowes, various other independent comic treasures, and the occasional copy of the British comic anthology 2000AD. It is in the latter that I find not just simple stories about this character or that series of events but a group of stories about varied characters each living in their own brilliant little world.
When I first encountered 2000AD the character who obviously jumped to the forefront was a fellow named Judge Dredd. Dredd is a dealer of supreme justice and a proficient badass, to put it plainly. In reading his stories I recognize that he is a character who, like many of the popular American comic book heroes, stands firm in his beliefs which clearly define him, and in so doing he becomes the paragon for those like him in his world, though his humanity inevitably stirs up questions and doubt at appropriate times to round him out in an exceptional way.
Judge Dredd mostly focuses on a specific duality in human nature which is the focus of the law of his land, good and bad, innocent and criminal. He operates in Mega City One, a metropolis of such tremendous breadth and population that no other name could possibly suffice. In that mega city Dredd patrols the streets with his peers, the Judges of the Hall of Justice, and locates crime so that he might deal judgment upon it. So, we have a mightily vast future city spanning the Washington DC area to New York, filled with hundreds of millions of people, and a law system functioning at a most extreme level. What a terrific setting for a dystopian tale of humanity in a future where society is barely holding itself together.
The character Dredd has been around for many years in the pages of 2000AD and the occasional crossover book. Hollywood produced a film adaptation in the mid-90s starring Sylvester Stallone as the Judge along with some doofy comic relief played by Rob Schneider. It was a tremendous flop, and to this day it remains happily forgotten by most self-respecting comic and movie fans. Then this year Lionsgate boldly released a new film adaptation of the old and beloved tough guy titled Dredd, which features Karl Urban in the titular role. A better product has rarely been made in the adaptation process from page to screen.
Dredd, available in 3D and certainly worthy of that format (more on that later), is a film set in a Mega City One which is very much like the metropolis found in the source material. The story of the film follows Judge Dredd on a seemingly regular day in the life of a Judge. During this particular day he is requested to run a nearly failed Judge-potential, named Anderson and played by the stunning Olivia Thirlby, through a test to determine if she is capable of taking up the position. What occurs during a routine crime check makes for a series of events beyond anything merely routine.
We're introduced to the world of this film version of Dredd in such a succinct way from the beginning that there is no question of where the events are taking place geographically and chronologically nor of the state of humanity. Basically the audience is given fair glimpses of character and world content as the story progresses without a mass of spell-it-all-out exposition cluttering up the beginning of the movie. One of the greatest strengths of this film is its story, mainly in how its structured and executed. Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later, was brought on to pen this fine adaptation. Throughout the film Garland wrote the events and characters in such a way that the action flows without any staggering and the audience is given brief views into the potential depth of the issues addressed and the characters at the helm of the thrill ride that is the plot. No one character is completely spelled out from the beginning, but they are instead unravelled as they act and react to the events with which they must contend.
The portrayals of the characters in this film were a joy to watch as they fell within a range from fairly basic, for most of the extras and background characters, to stunning, as were the leads. Karl Urban's portrayal of Dredd was spot on. He masterfully handled both the serious and grim sides of the character along with his merciful and sometimes humorous facets. Olivia Thirlby acted wonderfully as the mutant, possible Judge-to-be. As Anderson she played out the character's sensitive center whilst confidently handling her business side. Lena Headey thespianed the hell out of one of the most villainous ladies to feature in a film of any kind. Her Ma Ma was a cold, driven bitch, commanding in her savageness with a sort of disconnect from reality trailing throughout her. To say that the film was well cast is to make a ridiculous understatement.
Visually this film is sure to set precidents or at least be noted as inspirational to folks in the industry. Having seen several 3D films over the last year and a half I must say that thus far Dredd has most deserved the format and employed it to a magically awe-inspiring level. The violence of the film, which is heavy and graphic, is taken to an almost gorgeous height through the cinematography and use of the 3D effect. Nowhere else does the 3D element most shine than in the scenes where characters are subjecting themselves to the film's despised drug "Slo-Mo." Watching a character hit a vial and dive down 200 stories seems almost enviable when seen through the movie's dazzling 3D. Overall I feel that the look of the movie definitely pays homage to the dynamic wonder of the comic page.
If you're a fan, like me, of 2000AD and are looking for a film which honors your title of interest this is definitely it. If you're just a comic book fan looking for an adaptation which justifies this whole business of constant page-to-screen adapting then this is a film for you. It's many terrific elements assembled into a package of wondrous big screen joy.
Out of five I happily give this film five. Thank you for reading!