In 1995 modern comic book movies didn’t exist the way they do today. Batman the movie (1989), Darkman and Dick Tracy in (1990), The Rocketeer (1991) and then the Shadow in (1994) were standard bearers for what would lead to arguably the main catalysts in the modern comic book movies; Blade in 1998 and what many consider the real accelerant: Sam Raimi’s Spider-man in 2002.
So in 1995 back when Bill Clinton was president comic book fans could never dream that in 25 years there would be so many comic book movies and TV shows that there wouldn’t be time to see them all.
Sylvester Stallone was box office Gold (Rocky , 1977) (Rambo ,1982) and their sequels had made him a household name and (Demolition Man, 1993) raked in 159.1 million bucks at the box office
Many outside of the UK had never heard of Judge Dredd a character created by artist Carlos Ezquerra and John Wagner in 1977. At this point in 1995 Judge Dredd had been published continuously for 18 years WEEKLY in 2000AD the British Sci-fi orientated comic anthology magazine with scripts almost exclusively written by Wagner.
When you think at this point Marvel hadn’t released a single modern movie based on their characters it’s a testament to how good the source material is that Judge Dredd ever got made at all, never mind with a budget of 90million.
Three years prior hot off the success Terminator 2 Arnold Schwarzenegger had been attached to play Dredd. That’s how hot this property was at the time.
Stallone had never heard of Judge Dredd when he accepted the role. In retrospect despite what many critics described as “excessive acting”; with his rock chiselled jaw Stallone was perfectly cast.
IF he had just kept that helmet on.
Now in what is 43 years of continuous comic continuity (Dredd ages in real time in the source material) no one has ever seen Judge Joseph Dredd’s face. In the comics they removed his helmet just once and his face was covered by a censor bar.
The second Stallone removes the helmet in this movie the mystique and gravitas of the character evaporates.
Another problem is the design of the Judge Armour. It’s arguable that the comics Judge Uniforms are one of the most iconic designs in comics history, up there with the Fantastic Four unstable molecule costumes or the Hulk’s ripped purple pants. It’s part of the characters identity. So why the makers of Stallone’s Judge Dredd decided to let Gianni Versace into a sex shop and let him run wild for fifteen minutes remains a mystery.
There’s a ridiculous cod piece, they replaced the comics iconic green leather on the knee pads, boots and gloves with black. It’s such a shame. It was horrendous at the time but now looking back it’s aged the movie terribly. Unlike Jean Paul Gauliter’s equally kooky costume design on 1997’s “The Fifth Element” this armour had existed albeit in comic form for eighteen years and the Dollar Store Haute Couture the movie gave us wasn’t even close to being acceptable to fans.
Another issue with the main costumes design is it completely and utterly overshadows the amazing design work on the rest of the movie.
Dredd’s Lawgiver side arm and Lawmaster bike transport – completely redesigned from the comics still look great today, as does every single other costume. The design and look of the sprawling Mega City One and especially the ABC Warrior which they actually built on set still looks great.
Another issue with the movie is that it just tries to cram eighteen years worth of plot into an hour and a half. Dredd’s universe is massive and they tried too hard here. Take the inclusion of and ultimately the wasting of the Dredd villain Mean ”Mean Machine” Angel and the Angel Gang.
The only other example of pissing away an amazing villain in this way on such a grand scale is Darth Maul’s far too early demise in the Star Wars prequels. The Angel Gang could have been the main antagonists in their own movie
For all its faults, largely unforgiveable in Judge Dredd Comic fans eyes, Stallone’s Judge Dredd is a better movie than you remember. If you just forget it’s Judge Dredd and just enjoy it. It’s funny, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally with Stallone hamming it up like a pantomime dame. It’s surprisingly violent and for the most part a visually stunning film. It’s beautifully shot. There’s a scene in a locker room where sunlight falls across Stallone’s face after he removes the helmet for the first time and Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud of it.
In terms of spectacle, nods to the source material and just being a better movie 2012’s “Dredd” staring a constantly helmeted Karl Urban knocks Stallone’s 1995 “Judge Dredd” into a cocked hat but without it and other vanguards of the genre, movies like Avengers End game may never have happened. Take it for what it is a gloriously camp, fun sci-fi movie that helped set the way for the smorgasboard of comic book movies we enjoy today.