Judge Dredd: The Half-British, Half-American Action Hero

Karl Urban as Judge Dredd in ‘Dredd’

Forgive us, we’re going to mention the Judge Dredd movie again. And the reason we’re going to continue to do this is simple: the British reputation is at stake.

The British have proven themselves to be very good at creating a heroes in literature. Usually these are clever people, with a waspish sense of humor and no qualms about using it to sting indiscriminately (a characteristic which is curiously at odds with the British reputation for decorum and manners, but that’s by the by).

Judge Dredd, on the other hand, is brutish, but not British, not entirely. He’s a man of action and few words, and entirely dogged in his pursuit of lawbreakers. He was invented for the British comic book 2000AD, as the product of a three-way inventive team that pitted the talents of an American writer (John Wagner) against a Spanish artist (Carlos Ezquerra) via a British editor (Pat Mills). Any critique of hardline American law ‘n’ order in the comic comes both from within and without American society, which is part of what makes Judge Dredd an interesting character.

He’s a hard-nut, but he’s also quirkily obsessed with decorum, fit to match any sniffy butler, he refuses to take his helmet off, is uncompromisingly stringent in his drive to uphold the letter of the law, rather than the spirit, and can be very callous. Just like every classic Brit villain in the movies.

So the treatment of his character when making the transition from ink to screen has been fraught with danger. The Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd brought the all-American action hero side, but left out the brittle obsession and oddness (and when I say “brittle”, I clearly mean “British”). This new version – called just Dredd – appears to have got a better grip on what’s what and who’s who, and, as this clip demonstrates, gives our lawman his regal poise back:

And to anyone watching that clip and wondering why he doesn’t appear to be doing much, that’s exactly the point. No wasted effort, no unnecessary emotions, no deviation, no mercy.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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