“Dredd” Helps Blast Off (and Blast Up) Comic-Con 2012

The highly anticipated new Judge Dredd reboot, Dredd (in 3D), drew a lot of positive reviews at last night’s opening of San Diego Comic-Con. The film is great, as is Karl Urban as the (properly) perpetually helmeted Judge of Mega-City One, and it will help to wipe those horrible memories of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version from your traumatized mind. Urban is a childhood fan of the show, and it shows in his gritty performance. Whether they loved it or disliked it — and many writers enjoyed it — the critics found it engaging.

“The prevailing wisdom in the ’80s among fans was that Robocop stole much of Judge Dredd‘s thunder, pre-empting it at the time with its similar satire of the action hero as fascist enforcer,” explained Luke Y. Thompson of Deadline.com. “The new Dredd, directed by Pete Travis, nods to this by quoting Robo-foe ED-209′s ‘ten seconds to comply’ at one point. As for criticisms that it resembles [the videogame] The Raid: Redemption — some cinephiles will still say that (similar building, both very violent films), but it’s different enough to merit assessment on its own terms.”

Collider’s Matt Goldberg declared: “It’s when Dredd and [psychic rookie Judge] Cassandra [Anderson] are on the offense that the movie comes alive. The movie isn’t about passive survival. It’s about fighting to the death, namely the death of Ma-Ma’s army of thugs. Setting Dredd loose gives Urban time to shine and prove to the audience that this is a character worthy of his own franchise. Dredd never removes his bulky helmet, so Urban has to work with only the lower half of his face and the inflection in his voice. He does it wonderfully. The character easily transitions from wry to sardonic to serious to authoritative to protective to weary. It’s all the ingredients we want from an old-fashioned bad-ass, and Urban cooks them into to a terrific action hero.”

For those wondering about the film’s faithfulness to its comic book source material, Todd Gilchrist of the Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Maximizing the source material’s blackly comedic sensibilities, Urban plays his role of ‘judge, jury and executioner straight,’ while Thirlby’s role as a rookie with psychic powers serves as an audience stand-in — albeit one who can more than hold her own against the film’s rogues’ gallery of crooks and baddies. (Urban’s interpretation also foregoes most of the character’s trademark bling, hence the actor’s mention of the absence of gold uniform accoutrements.)”

Also writing for IndieWire, Gilchrist stated: “Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Verhoeven’s Robocop indulged in plenty of gratuitous violence and pure, sophomoric fun, and yet both films possessed a political and social consciousness that elevated their prurient charms. Within genre conventions, Dredd satisfies as a containment thriller, buddy cop movie and futuristic action gorefest; the performances are strong, the characters thoughtfully developed and the visuals beautifully executed.”

Judges Dredd and Anderson shake up the 200-story Peach Trees block.
(Photo courtesy of Lionsgate / Reliance Entertainment.)

The long-running UK comics character (we’re talking nearly 35 years here) has always entertained fans with his bleakly comic, fascistic tales ripe with social commentary and often cheeky humor. While not blown away by Dredd, Screen Crush’s Jordan Hoffman gave it props for its dystopic delivery: “I’ve got to give Dredd some credit for its fundamental delight in being fascist. It makes Dirty Harry look like 12 Angry Men. Unlike Starship Troopers, the satirical winks, while existent, are few and far between. Dredd takes it on faith that you’ll know that this is, you know, a bad way for a criminal justice system to behave, then lets you see what a body smashing into concrete from 200 stories above looks like in extreme slow motion. There’s a moment, just a moment, where you think the movie is gonna wimp out, but this thread is quickly dropped. From a badass POV, that’s cool — from a ‘what the hell’s wrong with our culture?’ angle, I’m not so sure.”

The undoubtedly R-rated Dredd hits theaters on September 28th. Screenwriter Alex Garland has said the film needs to obtain a $50 million gross for a sequel. Let’s hope it hits that mark because a second installment would be most welcome and take us further into the fascinating and fearsome world and head of Judge Dredd.

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