The first world premiere at this year's San Diego Comic-Con was "Dredd," the second attempt to turn the popular antihero from the British comic series "2000 AD" into a big-screen franchise. The original attempt starred Sylvester Stallone as the helmeted, scowly hero; this one features Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy from the new "Star Trek" franchise). And, by all critical accounts — with at least ten reviews filed overnight by some hard working journalists — it is not entirely terrible. Which, for a franchise that began seventeen years ago with an installment that was entirely terrible, is a win however you slice it.
The film, which opens in theaters on September 7th, follows Urban and a new partner (Olivia Thirlby) as they try to escape an enormous apartment tower ruled by a villainous crime boss (Lena Headey). If that sounds a little like this year's Indonesian action sensation "The Raid" that's only because you've seen "The Raid" (Despite the similarities, "Raid" director Gareth Evans tweeted his support for "Dredd," saying the movie "looks great" and he wasn't concerned by the parallels). Stallone's "Judge Dredd" was an expansive film set all over the world; Urban's is stripped down and contained. It's so intense, in fact, Urban doesn't take off the character's distinctive helmet once during the entire picture. His mother's not going to be very pleased about that.
Words like "intense" and "violent" and "Verhoeven" pop up a lot in these reviews, which are mostly pretty positive. Of course, this is Comic-Con, where critical reactions need to be taken with a kryptonite meteorite-sized grain of salt (something I'm going to write more about later this week), so judge them accordingly. Here's the first wave of "Dredd" reviews:
"'Dredd' is a character study, primarily, one fueled by violence and action, and we can’t think of a better way to re-introduce this character to cinema audiences."
"If 'Die Hard' and 'Sin City' had an awesome, brilliant, violent baby, this film would be it."
"'Dredd' is a perfect answer to the more mainstream and safe action films that are usually playing at a theatre near you."
"The flick’s strong, with a hell of a great sound design and some crazy Verhoeven-level violence/satire moments that made me smile."
"Much like its Judges, 'Dredd' sets out to accomplish a very specific task, and it accomplishes it directly, effectively, and with no small amount of bloodshed."
"All told, it’s not dreadful."
"'Dredd' isn't a great film, but it's a great Comic-Con film — one worth catching at midnight and screaming your lungs out all in good, absurd fun."
"'Dredd' swings between a single-minded drive to use your adrenal gland like a chew toy and a one-dimensional ploy to play into a shallow bloodlust."
"Worth seeing for Urban alone."
"With no threatening villain and a hero with the emotional range of a block of wood, all that’s really left are the visuals."