Back in 1995, Sylvester Stallone donned the Judge Dredd helmet in order to bring the comic book warrior to life on the big screen. The character, as imagined by John Wagner, is a mix of Dirty Harry and RoboCop (Dredd actually inspired the latter) whose portrayal over the years has varied from a satirical riff on the fascist American cop tropes - to a dead-serious version of a futuristic officer who's judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one.
Stallone was a good physical match for the character, but his take on Dredd was closer to a sci-fi version of Rambo - not to mention, his costume (complete with golden codpiece) and line delivery (including, the now infamous "I am the law!") resulted in a seemingly-unintentional lampoon version of the Judge. However, as illustrated in the new Dredd 3D clip, Karl Urban's portrayal of the character goes to the opposite extreme (in a good way).
The Judge Dredd reboot ditches the world-building approach of Stallone's movie for a lean and mean plot where Dredd spends a day with rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic who's looking to get a crash-course in dispensing brutal justice from her superior. What Anderson doesn't count on, though, is a trip down to the Peach Trees compound, which is run by ruthless drug lord Madeline ‘Ma-Ma’ Madrigal (Lena Headey), whose criminal empire is built on the mind-altering drug Slo-Mo. When Ma-Ma gets wind of two Judges on her turf, she orders ever crook nearby to take them out - kicking off a battle to the death between her army and "The Law."
Urban, as mentioned before, adapts a raspy tone to become a "faceless" version of Dredd (ie. one whose face we never see in full) in the 3D reboot - and his spin on the character works much better than Stallone's, in the context of the film. It was a gamble to make Dredd so non-empathetic, but director Pete Travis keeps Dredd 3D moving at such a brisk pace that attempts to humanize the character might have just felt like clogs in the finely-tuned machine.
Dredd 3D was shown to select members of the press at Comic-Con; although this writer has raised issues with the thin story/characters, there's no denying the film excels as an entertaining, ultra-violent, B-movie. It's obviously not for everyone - or even all Judge Dredd fans, for that matter - but for those in the mood to watch Urban as Dredd reduce baddies to bloody smithereens, this is a must-see.
Dredd 3D opens in U.S. theaters on September 21st, 2012.