Rating: 2.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
In the future, the Earth’s environment has been devastated, and humanity persists only by clustering together in a few mega cities. These cities are overcrowded and dangerous, and whatever order they do have comes from the Judges, who have the authority to arrest, try, and execute criminals on the spot. One such Judge, Joseph Dredd, is famous around the city, because he’s the Judge played by Sylvester Stallone.
Despite the Judges’ best efforts, violent crime continues to rise. A member of the Council of Judges, Judge Griffin, wants to reinstate the Janus Project, creating an army of perfect clones, and then give them the authority to execute criminals for even the most minor violations. No one else on the Council has the stomach for this, so Griffin goes behind their back, breaking Judge Rico (the secret, evil clone brother of Judge Dredd, who is played by a different actor despite being a clone) out of prison, getting him to frame Dredd for murder, and then plant a series of bombs around the city, killing over a hundred Judges. With the chaos on the streets and lack of personnel, there will be no choice but to reinstate Janus.
But Griffin didn’t count on Judge Dredd’s prison transport ship crashing in the desert. From there Dredd, along with his wacky sidekick Fergee, fights his way back inside the city walls, determined to clear his name, stop his mad “brother,” and end the Janus Project before the city is overrun with deranged clones. Also, he must finally learn about what these humans call “feelings.”
This movie looks absolutely fantastic. From the very beginning, when Fergee is looking out at the buildings from the flying taxi, I felt like I was craning my neck there with him, like a sheltered tourist visiting the big city for the first time. The production design is simply incredible.
That extends to the costumes as well. Though the Judge costumes are a little over-the-top, I think they work. The ABC Warrior robot is amazing, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it whenever it was on screen. Mean Machine Angel also looked terrific, with his giant cybernetic arm, and the big dial on his forehead determining just how mean he’ll be in that moment.
“Eat recycled food. It’s good for the environment and okay for you.”
“There is a way in. 10 years ago, two refugees figured it out, through the city’s incinerator. There’s a flame burst twice a minute, which means they had only 30 seconds to run through before it flamed again.”
“These refugees, they made it through, right?”
“Actually, they were roasted. But the theory’s sound.”
Everyone in this movie is constantly overacting. While I can praise the film for embracing its comic book roots with its design (even down to the montage of comic covers at the opening), I’d still prefer if the actual real human actors resembled real human beings.
Stallone is a mumblemouth, and his big emotional scene when he realizes Rico is his brother feels completely empty. Assante, as Rico, is also a bit of a mumblemouth, but I guess that makes sense once it’s revealed he’s Dredd’s clone. Schneider is somewhat irritating, but as sidekicks go, I’ve seen way worse.
It feels like Judge Dredd was planning to have an arc for its main character, but at the end simply forgot. Everything that happens for the first two-thirds is setting up the idea that Dredd’s fanatical devotion to the law is misguided, and in the end you expect him to learn some flexibility, or at least for it to still be part of the storyline, but instead the movie becomes entirely about Dredd’s relationship with his clone brother. The final scene is Dredd declaring himself a Street Judge for life, and driving off on his bike, presumably looking for a jaywalker to harass.
On the subject of the ending, that kiss with Judge Hershey is so totally unearned and awkward that I could almost be convinced it’s a deliberate parody of what you’d expect to happen in this kind of movie. Almost.
Boy oh boy are there some truly dreadful action movie quips. Dredd’s two catchphrases, “I am the law” and “I knew you’d say that” are in no way charming. I think he says “I knew you’d say that” at least five times in this 90-minute movie, and each instance is ever-so-slightly dumber than the last.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”