5 Ways The 1995 Movie Is Underrated (& 5 It Deserves The Hate)6 min read
Long before the MCU dominated pop culture, comic book fans had it rough when it came to the movies. There was simply no middle ground; either the movie was a groundbreaking hit like Batman, or it was a bomb like Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
A movie that fell in the latter was 1995’s Judge Dredd, which starred Sylvester Stallone as the eponymous Judge. On release and even today, the movie is considered to be a bad adaptation of the landmark 2000 AD comic. However, it has a few redeeming factors that helped elevate it to cult status.
10 DESERVES THE HATE: The Action Is Too Safe & Bland
If there’s one thing that Judge Dredd’s comics are known for, it’s violence. The Judges’ Lawmaker and the variety of visceral execution methods they offer is just the tip of the comics’ bloody iceberg, as the Judges’ enemies include cannibals, mutants, robots, equally brutal Judges, and more. Without exaggeration, every fight turns into a bloodbath.
Despite its R rating, the 1995 movie could easily pass for a PG-13 romp today. Even by ’90s action movie standards, Judge Dredd is almost bloodless. Gory deaths may not guarantee a great movie, but they can at least make it entertaining. Contrast this to 2012’s Dredd, which is as gory as the comics and infinitely more enjoyable than Stallone’s movie.
9 UNDERRATED: It Looks & Feels As Over-The-Top As The Comics
Judge Dredd’s comics are anything but subtle; the Judges are monuments to overcompensation, the Dark Judges are literally evil made flesh, and Mega-City One is a satirical microcosm of Western society’s (primarily Britain’s) problems. For all its faults, the 1995 movie actually got this aesthetic right.
In the movie, the Judges and criminals look as ridiculous as they should, while the colorful Mega-City One is an appropriately rotting cypberpunk metropolis. In comparison, Dredd traded the comics’ excesses for yet another realistic look that’s indistinguishable from other movies that equated “realistic” to “boring” and “drab.”
8 DESERVES THE HATE: It’s A Boilerplate Buddy-Cop Comedy
Judge Dredd is an amalgamation of many comic arcs, but it’s basically a buddy-cop comedy starring the straight-faced Judge Dredd and his unwitting sidekick Fergie. Together, they clear their names and oust the Justice Department’s corrupt elements. If not for its dystopian setting, Judge Dredd would be just another cop movie.
Though Dredd faced the same challenges in the comics, they were told in the least generic ways possible. Dredd’s missions were anything but formulaic, as they often found him fighting social ills made literal for satire’s sake while dealing with crazy plot twists and turns. If it were up to the comics’ creators, the movie’s simplistic plot would be rewritten as a farce.
7 UNDERRATED: It Actually Explores Mega-City One
Mega-City One is one of the most extravagant cesspools seen in comics, and Judge Dredd successfully brought it to life. The city looks and feels as crowded and corrupt as it should, and everyday life is given glimpses to make the city feel more lived in. The movie even went beyond the city, briefly showing The Wastes and mutants during Dredd’s exile.
Meanwhile, 2012’s Dredd locked itself in the Peach Trees housing projects and stayed there. As a result, the rebooted Mega-City One felt smaller than its predecessor, even if it got the city’s decrepit atmosphere correct. The most focus that the metropolis got was some opening narrations that described how bad its living conditions were instead of showing it.
6 DESERVES THE HATE: It’s Too Light-Hearted For A Dredd Movie
Since it takes place in a world that barely survived a devastating nuclear war, the Dredd comics are unsurprisingly bleak. The most readers could hope for in terms of levity was unapologetic black humor, which was often delivered sarcastically or violently. Judge Dredd himself being a no-nonsense lawman is part of the joke that is his dying world.
For whatever reason, the filmmakers saw this cynical depiction of the future as the perfect building blocks for their adventurous cyberpunk movie. Judge Dredd feels like it was made with its tongue in its cheek, making it hard to take anything seriously. Worse, the tone and constant jokes betray the serious themes and ideas that the characters and setting embody.
5 UNDERRATED: It Delves Into The Justice Department’s Politics
If there’s one thing the 1995 movie has over Dredd, it was exploring life in the Justice Department. The Department’s inner workings and hierarchy were detailed before Dredd was accused of murder. Additionally, its structure and key figures (e.g. the Council Judges) played important parts in Dredd’s ensuing trial and Rico’s overall plans.
Thanks to this, viewers learned not just about Dredd’s workplace, but its ideologies, traditions like The Long Walk, and its history in connection to Mega-City One. Even if the movie lacked the comics’ satire, it did a good job of realizing the original Justice Department. Meanwhile, 2012’s Dredd only went as far as acknowledging that corrupt Judges exist.
4 DESERVES THE HATE: The Comics’ Characters Are Devoid Of Their Original Irony & Nuance
In the broadest sense, the comics are a satirical deconstruction of the typical heroic cop story. Every character may have been a stereotype of cop fiction, but they all had a tinge of depth and irony to them. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seemed to have taken the comics at face value and watered down everything for the big screen.
A few missteps include: Chief Justice Fargo was reduced from a disillusioned Judge who prayed for the system’s end to Dredd’s wise elderly mentor, Judge Hershey became nothing more than Dredd’s love interest, and Fergee went from a childlike giant to a grating comic relief. In brief, the comics’ characters were downgraded to walking clichés.
3 UNDERRATED: It’s Entertaining As A Stallone Vehicle
Momentarily ignoring its source material, Judge Dredd can stand on its own as an action-packed vehicle for Stallone. It’s basically a more imaginative Demolition Man that traded its satiric wit for wackier ideas, like the cannibalistic Angel Gang and a main villain who’s also Judge Dredd’s cloned brother.
For the right viewer, the sheer idea of seeing Stallone go up against such goofy opposition is more than enough to get them to watch the movie. On top of that, Judge Dredd offers everything a Stallone fan could want, such as silly one-liners, big gunfights, rough melee scuffles, and more.
2 DESERVES THE HATE: Stallone’s Dredd Ignored Everything That The Character Stood For
Stallone’s Judge Dredd isn’t Dredd; he’s a Stallone character. Just like the lawmen Stallone portrayed in other movies (ex. Lt. Cobretti in Cobra, Lt. Tango in Tango & Cash), Dredd is a tough-talking man of action who violently dispenses justice. In summary, this Dredd is a celebration of fascistic law enforcement.
Meanwhile, the comics’ Judge Dredd is a dark parody and condemnation of such violent law and order. Dredd may be the best at his job, but he’s barely human and he has no social life to speak of. He also defends a morally corrupt system’s justice not because he believes in it, but because he’s been conditioned to do so.
1 UNDERRATED: It’s Unintentionally Hilarious
Frankly speaking, this movie is only average at best. It’s as middle-of-the-road as a ’90s-era comic book movie gets, and it’s better remembered for its overacting, bad attempts at comedy, and childishly simplistic politics than its action. It’s also for those exact same reasons that Judge Dredd makes for a great accidental comedy.
The only reason why anyone would watch this botched comic book adaptation is to satisfy their morbid curiosity, and anyone who does is in for a wild ride. Whether it’s seeing Stallone yell about The Law or watching the cheesy fights that Rob Schneider commentates over, Judge Dredd is sure to provide quality so-bad-it’s-good entertainment. And for what it’s worth, it’s no Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
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