After a decade in 'development hell', being firmly put on the back burner after the sleeper success of too-similar Robocop in 1988, Judge Dredd always had the deck stacked against him. But, finally, he made his cinematic appearance and didn't do too bad a job of it either. Based on the comic strip of the same name that first appeared in British comic 2000AD, the movie version had (like most comic to film developments) two ways to go: remain faithful to the source or use that merely as a springboard to create a separate version.
For the most part the film remains faithful to the comic, the major deviation being that Stallone in the title role removes his face-obscuring helmet to reveal scowling visage - something that has never been seen in his strip counterpart. (Hardcore fans booed this scene when it opened in London's Leicester Square.) The OTT costumes, however, remain (thankfully) intact and the art direction on everything from the street signs up to the vast city rooftops is this film's major asset. Stallone confounds all expectations and delivers a Dredd that works well. His sarcastic asides a source of much fun. The first 20 minutes of the film are fine, possibly even great but once that helmet is off and Dredd begins his journey outside Mega City One things slips slightly. They reach their nadir when an utterly irritating 'sidekick' is introduced for comic relief. Worst of all, we wind up being stuck with this guy for the rest of the entire movie. His personality soon begins to grate and his character adds nothing to the plot.
The plot itself isn't too bad but would probably have been put to better use in a sequel. The peripheral characters are used effectively and each help move it along. The heavyweight casting is a major asset and the presence of Jurgen Prochnow, Max von Sydow, Joan Chen and Armand Assante give the film a mixed, international feel. British director Danny (Young Americans) Cannon goes through the motions but doesn't manage any distinctive stamp. All told, it's not a bad action movie and alongside Batman Forever, a film it shares much with, it stands much, much taller, and is the one that deserves a follow-up.
A-Z of Film Reviews