Luke Y. Thompson is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of Comic-con.
The good news for Lionsgate is that Comic-Con fans of the pen-and-ink Judge Dredd accept this new Dredd as the real deal, unlike the Stallone version. Karl Urban, standing with costar Olivia Thirlby, introduced the screening by asking, “I hope you like your films dark and gritty. Do ya?” After that, he took a slight dig at Stallone by saying that fans of lycra and gold codpieces would be disappointed.
The not so good news may be that wider audiences won’t be in on the joke. Dredd in the comics was a British parody of what the typical American action hero was perceived to be, and Urban’s exaggerated Clint Eastwood-style line readings fit that mold perfectly, but it may not be obviously satirical enough to those who won’t see past Dredd melting a guy’s head from inside, machine-gunning perps in super-bloody slo-mo, and casually dropping one villain off a balcony (this audience cheered and laughed at each one, which is the intended response).
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Considerably lower-budget than the Stallone film directed by Danny Cannon, Dredd jettisons the Blade Runner-esque heavy sci-fi, creating a futuristic mega-city (stretching from Boston to L.A. with a radioactive desert outside) that’s more like a believable future slum built to the sky — a favela on steroids. No, fans, Dredd never takes his helmet off, although you do see him put it on, in shadow.
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. 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 Raid: Redemption mdash; some cinephiles will still say that (similar building, both very violent films), but it’s different enough to merit assessment on its own terms.
Mostly, it brings back memories of another Lionsgate adaptation of a grim and morally suspect hero: The Punisher: War Zone. That portrayed the character well, but mainstream audiences didn’t go for it. It’s hard to say that this will play much beyond the base unless they start playing up the satirical side in the marketing.