It’s been 35 years since Judge Joseph Dredd made his debut in the comics world, and now Britain’s favorite super-cop is finally getting the movie he deserves in “Dredd 3D,” a bloody, brutal adventure starring Karl Urban as the law-dispensing hero of Mega-City One.
Still, if you’re not overly acquainted with Dredd and his adventures, you’re not alone.
Despite being consistently ranked as one of the world’s most popular comic-book characters (and spawning a regrettable 1995 film that starred Sylvester Stallone as Dredd), the character has never achieved the same level of name-recognition in the U.S. as his spandex-sporting peers. But with early reviews looking very favorable for the new film, there’s a good chance we’ll see a few more people looking to catch up with Mega-City One’s most famous Judge.
While “Dredd 3D” does a nice job of bringing its audience up to speed with its post-apocalyptic setting, we’ve put together a brief primer on what’s worth knowing before you head to the theater.
In the future-world of Judge Dredd’s adventures, a nuclear war in the year 2070 has rendered much of the U.S. (and North America) uninhabitable due to radiation fallout. The surviving population is crowded into closely-packed urban “Mega-Cities,” with Mega-City One containing nearly 800 million people by the year 2100. While other cities are mentioned in the series, the majority of Judge Dredd’s adventures take place in Mega-City One, which covers most of the East Coast and is bordered to the west by a dangerous, radiation-filled landscape called “The Cursed Earth.”
Due to the intense over-crowding and high crime rates of the Mega-Cities, a system of law enforcement was established that allows individual “Judges” to impose sentences on law-breakers on the spot — eliminating the need for a courtroom in most cases. While Judges’ punishments are often harsh, the death penalty is only used in the most extreme cases (usually when murder or assault on Judges is involved). The Judges themselves are held to the highest standard, and must be walking encyclopedias of law capable of delivering swift (and occasionally lethal) judgement.
According to his history in the comics world, Joseph Dredd was cloned from one of the very first Chief Judges of Mega-City One — a background that gives him a personal connection to the law of the city. In one of the more memorable stories from the Judge Dredd archives, Dredd is forced to pursue and arrest his own brother (also a clone and a Judge) when he breaks the law. Dredd is the ultimate Judge, able to dispense instant justice that accounts for every detail of the law, and a deep-seated desire to keep the city safe from attackers both outside its walls and within.
It’s also worth noting that Judge Dredd’s face has never been seen in the 35 years of his adventures, with only the mere hint of his appearance under the helmet in certain stories. Unlike its predecessor, the new film takes that very intentional element to heart — keeping the face of justice just as mysterious as the comic made it.
While every Judge is equipped with an arsenal of weapons, their primary tool is the “Lawgiver,” a pistol that can only be operated by the Judge it’s assigned to protect. The Lawgiver also comes with several different types of ammunition that the Judge can alternate between via voice commands, including armor-piecing rounds and incendiary rounds.
Each Judge is also given a “Lawmaster” motorcycle capable of wielding a wide range of offensive weapons, as well as providing crowd-control assistance and other helpful actions. Like the Lawgiver, the Judge’s Lawmaster responds to voice commands from the Judge assigned to it.
“Dredd 3D” hits theaters September 21, and stars Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey.