Judge Dredd: Mega City One – 5 Things I Want to See

As I’m sure a lot of you know by now, a new TV series set in the Judge Dredd universe has been announced called Mega-City One. I’m also sure that, for those that enjoyed either the comics or the 2012 movie, a lot of you are as excited as I am about this news.

Judge Dredd has been my favourite ongoing comic series for years. There’s just so much I enjoy about it. I love the characters, I love the world and the insanity of it, I love the commentary, and so much more. The fact that it can tell really great stories with all of these elements, while also including lots of action, violence and thrills is what impresses me the most. For over a decade now, it really has been a comic that I’ve been super passionate about.

The 2012 movie Dredd is an adaptation that I’ve enjoyed equally as much. Understanding the character in a far better way than the 1995 Stallone movie, Judge Dredd is portrayed as a completely uncompromising fascist bastard, and that’s exactly how you need to portray him.

The 1995 movie initially seemed to do that, but then it tried to add things like “emotions” and “depth” to the character. Which just didn’t work. The thing is with Dredd is that he works better as an idea or a representation of the fascist system than as an actual three-dimensional character. The impact he has on others can be more interesting than the man himself. I’m not saying you can’t develop him at all, but it’s rare when it happens in the comics. And when it has been handled, it’s usually been done right. Subdued and subtle, but definitely there.

The 2012 film handled it well at the very, very end, when Dredd makes a choice that he wouldn’t have made at the start of the film. Otherwise, though, he is still a badass who still believes that what he does is ultimately right. By comparison, the 1995 film included the line, “You let me judge my own BROTHER?!?

‘Nuff said.

There were a few other things that I enjoyed about the 2012 film. I mentioned that Dredd was portrayed well. The same is equally true of Anderson, another character that I just adore for completely different reasons. Her character does feel real and fleshed out in both the comics and the film, and I really liked how both script-writer Alex Garland and actress Olivia Thirlby handled her.

I also really liked the “look” of the film. I’m not simply talking about the effects or the slow motion shots. More the whole style of it. On some level, it looked believably near-futuristic. On another, it had a look close to 70s cult classics like Escape from New York and The Warriors, and I freakin’ loved that. Even with details like the Judges’s uniforms and Mega-City One being given a more “realistic” design, that gorgeous cult look really helped to capture the spirit of the comics.

I’m mentioning all of these things because this is what the comic and the film have brought to the world of Judge Dredd. So what do I want to see from a TV series?

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(Credit: Rebellion)

A Wider Look at Mega-City One

Not much is currently known about Mega-City One, but one key fact that’s emerged is that it’s going to feature an ensemble cast. How much this series will feature Dredd himself remains to be seen. From the sounds of it so far, Dredd may not even be a major character, or at least, not a major character that gets focused on.

I’m not too worried about that. As I mentioned earlier, Dredd is at his strongest when he works as an idea, and in fact, showing and focusing on him too much could potentially weaken that. The comic has been going for forty years with him as the lead, this is true. But so many of the best stories move the perspective away from him and focus on other characters.

The comics have done this in different ways. The 80s had a lot of strips that focused on the citizens. Many of them very short, but still really great stories. Some focused on citizens becoming victims of crime. More focused on how they became criminals. (These ones I always enjoyed. It was rarely in a “supervillain origin” way that they turned to crime. It was mostly just bad circumstances that pushed an ordinary citizen into a new criminal.)

If this is going to be an ensemble show, then hopefully, we’ll get a nice balance between Judges, victims and criminals. Not in a serious or melodramatic way. But a wide perspective would be great for showing the whole world of Mega-City One. The city itself is at least as much of an important character as Dredd is, so hopefully, we can get some deep exploration for it in the TV series.

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The Greatest Image from a Comic Ever, courtesy of John Wagner, Alan Grant and Brian Bolland.

Storylines and Characters from the Comics (But Only in Moderation)

Obviously, as a fan of the comics, I want to see some of my favourite storylines adapted on screen. I’d also like to see them done right, though. I don’t want to see everything in one episode, or even one season.

This was particularly a big problem with the Stallone movie. A lot of us slam it for being nothing like the comics. Which is kind of funny, considering how many storylines straight from the source material it tried to cram into just one film! In just ninety minutes, it tried to include plotlines and characters from:

  • The Return of Rico
  • The Day the Law Died
  • The Angel Family
  • Oz

That’s too much to cram into one film, especially one that was only an hour and a half. The Dark Knight was an hour longer, and that really only combined two awesome and complimentary storyline: The Killing Joke and The Long Halloween. It also helped that it was a sequel, with the lead protagonist and his world already set up from Batman Begins. In Stallone’s Dredd, it still had to introduce all of that to the audience while telling all of these storylines! No wonder there wasn’t much room to flesh out Dredd himself effectively.

By contrast, the 2012 film didn’t adapt any story directly, but it did focus on its two leads and fleshed them out really well. I think this is one of the biggest reasons why fans have really wanted to see a sequel. The story in Dredd was awesome for how refreshingly simple it was, but there’s the potential for so much more.

For the TV series, what I really want to see is, along with original stories and characters, some key storylines and characters done right. Not too much and not too many, but I have a few ideas for stories that, if nothing else, could be used as effective starting points. The Pit, with its focus on Dredd training some of the least effective Judges into some of the best, immediately springs to mind.

There’s also the Wally Squad, a group of undercover Judges that sometimes lose themselves in the lives they lead. It’s an old story, but it’s still been done well in Judge Dredd, and it’d allow for another close glimpse of the city.

There are some storylines that I definitely don’t want to see, at least not if the first season is just ten episodes or so. I don’t want to see Judge Death too early, I think he should be saved for a season finale at least. The same goes for Total War, a terrorist organization fighting for the return of democracy first introduced in America.

Still, I’d like to see a lot of build-up to it. I think the first season could focus on democratic protesters from time to time, and get us to see just how fascist the Judges really can be.

Like I said, there’s a lot of great storylines that the TV series can adapt and portray very well. But only if it avoids telling too much at once and tells it all exactly right.

Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson
Olivia Thirlby as Judge Cassandra Anderson in Dredd.

Olivia Fuckin’ Thirlby as Cassandra Fuckin’ Anderson

Apologies for the swearing, but I felt that I really needed to emphasise my point with this one. Because, as brilliant and spot-on Urban was as Dredd, and as much as he gets recognised for that, I do feel that Thirlby’s portrayal of Anderson gets just a little bit overlooked by comparison. And that’s a bit of a shame, because she did such a brilliant job portraying an early version of that character so effectively.

Cassandra Anderson is, without question, one of my favourite female comic book leads ever. On the surface, she’s confident and faces danger with a smile and a smart-ass wise-crack. However, over the years, she has been through hell. She has been sealed in a plastic bubble and stuck with Judge Death in her head. She has suffered as a result of her psychic abilities. She has seen war and death on an unimaginable scale. Alan Grant, who has written most of her stories, has been an absolute bastard to her. But I massively thank him for it, because he has given us such a wonderfully complex character as a result.

I’ll be honest: when I first heard that Thirlby was playing the role in the 2012 film, I was initially skeptical. Not that she wasn’t a good actress, just that I thought she was a little too young for it. Plus, it was kind of hard not to see her as the best friend from Juno. She wasn’t exactly who I had imagined for such a role

Then I saw her performance, and like so much of the film, it just blew me away. She just completely nailed the part. It wasn’t the Anderson I had seen in the comics, but that was kind of the point. We were seeing Anderson at the very beginning of her career as a Judge. She may be psychic, but she’s also nervous and is all too aware of her lack of experience, especially when compared to Dredd.

However, as the film goes on, she quickly gains her confidence, both in her abilities and in herself. At the start, she cares too much of what Dredd thinks, and continually quotes the book of the law without using her own sense of judgement. By the end, she doesn’t care and wants to be an effective judge on her own terms, even if she’s already failed her assessment. Ironically, it’s enough for Dredd to pass her performance.

It would be brilliant if we see more of Anderson in the TV series as she adjusts to being a Judge on her own. Has she grown further in her confidence, or does she continually have to deal with fresh challenges? I think I’d like to see Anderson training the new Psi-Division for Justice Department. It’d be great to see Anderson learning how to be a teacher, particularly as a contrast to her last on-screen appearance.

Perhaps wanting Thirlby back is the closest thing to wishful thinking on my part. While I’d obviously love for her to come back, and I’m sure she’d return for a sequel, would she return for a TV series? I’m not sure. But it’d be so brilliant if she did come back.

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From the Dredd teaser poster.

Judge Dredd Used Sparingly, but Effectively

As I mentioned earlier, the producers have made it clear that the Judge himself is not going to be the star of the show. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, though. In fact, if done right, it could be used to the show’s advantage very effectively.

Imagine a group of Judges that are flawed and left to themselves to solve crimes. Imagine them being capable, but struggling. Not because they aren’t good at their jobs, but that the city is a tough place, and they’ve all got bad ways of dealing with it. This was the kind of storyline that The Pit, plus several spin-off series like Low Life and The Simping Detective, have handled really well, so I could see it working in a TV series.

Now imagine this group of characters facing a group of criminals that they can’t handle. Maybe it’s because the criminals are more experienced than they are. Maybe it’s because they’re more ruthless. Or perhaps there’s a more interesting situation where it’s more morally grey. Perhaps these criminals are democracy supportors that have only just started using extremist methods to get what they want. Perhaps some of them are even likable characters that we’ve been following.

Now imagine one Judge in particular entering the scene, and sorting things out his way. What am I thinking, here? You know that Darth Vader scene near the end of Rogue One? Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m thinking, but with Force powers and a lightsaber replaced with a Lawgiver.

I’m not saying the scene should go exactly like that, but I want Dredd’s appearance to have an impact. If he’s not going to be the main character, then it’s important that the audience goes “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” whenever he does show up. He doesn’t need to be invincible, but he does need to a badass, he needs to be awesome, and he needs to be the fucking LAW.

Of course, there is one way that’s guaranteed to make sure that his impact reaches its full potential.

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Karl Urban as Judge Dredd.

Karl Urban

What else needs to be said? Karl Urban is Judge Dredd. He understood the part in a crucial way that Stallone didn’t.

Like Thirlby, I was initially skeptical at his casting. Certainly, Urban wasn’t who I had imagined for someone playing Dredd. (My choice would’ve been Ron Perlman, personally.) But he completely nailed it.

It wasn’t just the fact that he wore the helmet the whole time, although that was a big fat plus. It’s how he completely embodied the core traits of the character, in manner, voice, tone etc. Whenever I see him, I just completely forget that I’m watching Eomer from The Lord of the Rings, or McCoy from the new Star Trek movies. I’m watching a perfect depiction of Judge Dredd.

What are the chances of him returning to the role for a TV series? Hard to say. He is a very busy actor, and I’m sure he’s got quite a few big roles coming up, including one in the upcoming Thor movie. But he’s also been a massive supporter for a Dredd sequel. He has continually pushed the fans to keep the demand high and to keep supporting Dredd. He’s a fan of the comics, and he read the opening speech from America so perfectly.

The producers have mentioned that they’re very keen for him to come back, too. There’s been nothing official on his decision just yet, so we’re definitely going to have to wait and see. My personal opinion? I think he will be back. Maybe not for many episodes, but I think things could be arranged enough for him to return to the role. And if the series combines his return along with all these other key things that I want to see in the series, and does it right, I think we could have a very strong TV series.

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