In this time of remakes, redos and reboots, a question arises when a character gets played by multiple people, I think. Specifically, the question is “Who played it best?” I’ve been meaning to offer my opinion on this matter concerning a few re-visited roles and here is my first candidate.
Last night, I watched the ultra-violent, 2012 popcorn flick Dredd. I had wanted to see it in the theater, failed, and recently saw a lot of people speaking well of it now that it is on Netflix.
As you may be aware, Sylvester Stallone played this character in 1995’s Judge Dredd. Both are based on the long running Judge Dredd segments from the British comic 2000AD. Dredd is a street judge, a police officer authorized to dispense judgement and punishment on the spot, armed with a variable ammunition handgun and a leather pants load of attitude. They’re trained for 15 years, not just cops but knights in the cause of justice. And Dredd is the paladin of them, the true believer.
The movies have been judged on their own merits. Stallon’s film is a rambling exploration of the world pinned with a lofty conspiracy plot that is not about the job of being judge, jury and executioner, but also about the price of keeping order. The 2012 film has Dredd, played by the undervalued Keith Urban, evaluating a rookie judge who underperforms, but whose psychic talents have convinced her higher ups to push her through if she can pass Dredd’s judgement. On the evaluation ride, the get trapped in a 200 story “mega block” housing complex and have to fight to survive as well as to end the reign of a drug lord ex-prostitute.
The films, despite sharing the titular character, are radically different. Stallone’s felt more like a comic book, but squandered established characters for the sake of hollywood action scenes. Urban’s film is more understated, more realistic, but feels like it’s more about Dredd’s rookie charge, played by Oliva Thirlby, than it does about the Judge himself.
The radical differences, I think, are more due to the choices of the respective directors than they are of the actors. Each honored the comic in their own ways and where they differed, I think they both did so with some good reason (though points to Urban’s portrayal for keeping a helment on that meant all of his expressions had to be done with his mouth and jaw alone).
Dredd is a monolithic character, striking fear into the hearts of all but the most irreverant or foolish just by standing there, much less when he goes for the Lawgiver pistol on his hip. An actor stepping up to that character has to carry weight even when he’s saying nothing, doing nothing. He has to be imposing on the screen, portraying relentless obedience and believe in the law even when he’s saying nothing.
So who did that better?
Stallone’s Judge Dredd was just on the edge of going over the top. They put the “I am the Law” decree up front, got the constant frown down and he made a point of constantly making himself look big, with arms akimbo and feet apart. However, he had numerous emotional outbursts that didn’t suit the charcter and were more the hallmark of Stallone’s usual action movie performance.
Urban’s portrayal, on the other hand, was more reserved. He almost faded into the background in some scenes, which is very much not Dredd. When he delivers his declaration of “I am the Law”, it’s a threat. For that moment, I think they captured Dredd, but something was lacking otherwise. There was just a note where Urban was badass, but not the avatar of unflinching adherence to the letter of the law. He came off as tough, not legendary.
The one place I can cut Urban some slack is that I think where his film missed the mark was more the direction and writing than it was the acting. But that said, there was still something I left the movie wanting.
To be honest, I don’t think either film got Dredd exactly right. Both were close and I would dearly love to see the fan-desired but studio-uninterested sequel that the message boards pray for. I’d be even happier to see Judge Anderson get a sequel. And in truth, the 1995 film was the worse of the two.
That said, I’ve elected myself judge, jury and critic on this matter and my verdict is….
…Stallone takes it, by the stubble of his chin.
Disagree? Agree? Want to discuss recipes for ramen? Leave me a comment.
More of this sort of thing to come. Peace.