Marvel Unveils ‘Avengers 2’ Title Card and More

This title image for the 'Avengers' sequel was unveiled Saturday.

This title card for the ‘Avengers’ sequel was unveiled Saturday.

Marvel Studios held their annual panel in San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H Saturday, revealing a trove of information about their upcoming second phase of superhero movies.

Perhaps most significantly, the title of the sequel to last summer’s  The Avengers, set for May 1, 2015, was revealed to be Avengers: Age of Ultron.

For readers not familiar with the comics, Ultron was a sentient robot originally created by Dr. Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man, who has yet to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ultron was created for good but soon became obsessed with power, modifying himself and eventually warring with Pym.

The Comic-Con teaser seems to suggest that Marvel may not be following the comics to the letter on this one. The title reveal began with a video of Iron Man’s mask. As members of the Avengers repeated lines from previous movies, the mask was spun around, battered and distorted, eventually morphing into Ultron’s distinctive fanged metallic skull.

If this footage is to be believed, Marvel may adapt Ultron’s origin story to make one Tony Stark his creator, holding off on introducing Pym until his planned solo movie, to be directed by Edgar Wright, in Phase Three. Director Joss Whedon offered no clues.

Marvel also teased the rest of its upcoming slate:

Thor: The Dark World (Nov. 8, 2013) – Little more than some extra footage from the upcoming sequel was revealed, though Tom Hiddleston appeared as Loki to whip the audience into a frenzy. From what we know already, The Dark World will take Chris Hemsworth’s hammer-wielding demi-god to more alien worlds as he battles the Dark Elves, led by the mysterious Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Thor will team up with erstwhile brother Loki and love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) as he attempts to stop the Dark Elves from destroying worlds he has sworn to protect and everyone he holds dear. The film, directed by Game of Thrones helmer Alan Taylor, will have a grittier, more Viking-influenced feel, according to insiders.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014) – Most of the cast members appeared at Comic-Con, including Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson (reprising her Black Widow role in a bigger part), Emily VanCamp (as mysterious Agent 13) and Sebastian Stan (as the titular antagonist, one of Cap’s close friends from the ’40s brainwashed by the villainous HYDRA organization). According to producer Kevin Feige, the film is “a 70s political thriller masquerading as a big superhero movie” and will find Cap taking on a powerful enemy in Washington, D.C. Frank Grillo will appear as villain Crossbones. Anthony Mackie will also feature as flying hero Falcon. As directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the film will deal with Cap’s adjustment to modern life and his growing relationship with Black Widow. Robert Redford, not in attendance at Comic-Con, will play shadowy villain Alexander Pierce. A fight sequence between Cap and Crossbones in an elevator was screened, along with some lines from Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.

Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1, 2014) – Surprisingly, lots of cast members from James Gunn’s oddball sci-fi space-set adventure showed up at Comic-Con. The story will find an American pilot teaming up with alien ex-cons to transport a powerful artifact. Footage screened showed protagonist Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) attempting to steal an artifact from a temple before encountering Djimon Hounsou’s Korath, and a futuristic mug shot scenario where each member of the Guardians is profiled. Here’s a run-down of who’s who:

Peter Quill/Star-Lord – Chris Pratt beefed up to play the film’s lead protagonist, a devil-may-care gunslinger with an alien father and human mother. Wanted on charges of “minor assault,” according to the footage.

Yondu – Michael Rooker shaved his head for the role of the Guardians’ founding member, an expert hunter.

Gamora – Avatar actress Zoe Saldana is under heavy makeup as green alien assassin Gamora, the adopted daughter of heavyweight villain Thanos. She’s the last of her species, according to Saldana.

Drax the Destroyer – Wrestler Dave Bautista plays a human reborn as a green warrior with the sole purpose of killing Thanos, after the villain murdered his family.

Ronan the Accuser – Lee Pace will be portraying a villain, the leader of the evil Kree race.

Korath the Pursuer – Djimon Houstou took the role of one of Ronan the Accuser’s Kree allies to set an example for his young son, who is a big fan of superhero movies.

Nebula – Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan revealed at Comic-Con that she had shaved her head to play the villainous Nebula, a space pirate.

The Collector – Benicio del Toro signed a multi-picture deal with Marvel before signing on to play the ancient Collector, a being who finds interesting lifeforms to keep for himself.

Yet to be cast are the voices of Groot, a tree-like member of the Guardians, and Rocket Raccoon, a pint-sized Guardian. Thanos, who cameoed at the end of The Avengers, is rumored to be making an appearance.

Source: EW.

Image Courtesy: Marvel.

‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ Adds a Mutant

Evan Peters has joined the new 'X-Men.'

Evan Peters has joined the new ‘X-Men.’

Evan Peters, the breakout star of FX creepest American Horror Story, has landed a main role in the upcoming X-Men sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past. The new entry will bring together characters from the X-Men trilogy and prequel X-Men: First Class.

Singer broke the news over Twitter: “Before he was an #Avenger, he was just a REALLY fast kid. Thrilled to say #EvanPeters is joining#XMen #DaysOfFuturePast as#Quicksilver.”

Peters will portray Quicksilver, a mutant with the ability of super speed. In the comics, Quicksilver was Magneto’s son, and he later joined The Avengers along with his sister Scarlet Witch. How he will factor in to the film’s growing cast has yet to be determined.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter. 

Photo Courtesy: Collider.

Review: Iron Man 3

 

Stark and Potts prepare for battle.

Stark and Potts prepare for battle.

The last time Robert Downey Jr. suited up for adventure without his super-powered pals, the result was a stalled, inferior sequel that made many question how sustainable the Iron Man franchise actually was. Everything that was enjoyable about the original Iron Man – quippy dialogue, exciting action sequences, and an energetic, devil-may-care feel –  vanished in Iron Man 2. And so, Marvel had a lot riding on Iron Man 3 – its responsibility was nothing less than to revitalize the franchise, deliver a massively entertaining popcorn flick, and ensure that people would be asking for more Iron Man for years to come.

Luckily, director Shane Black  (Lethal Weapon) came through with flying colors. He made many great moves with his addition to the franchise, including a change in tone and terrific plot twists. The script (which Black co-wrote with Drew Pearce) is smarter than most, highlighting Tony Stark as a real character and setting up worthy adversaries for him instead of resting on its laurels with big-budget special effects and the movie’s all-but-guaranteed box office success.

The threequel picks up a few months after the Battle of New York featured in The Avengers. Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), once a smug billionaire with playthings of mass destruction, is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Suffering PTSD after an encounter with a Chitauri wormhole, Tony can’t sleep. He spends his days in isolation, tinkering away in the basement of his cliffside Malibu home, drifting away from his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). When agents of the Mandarin, an elusive terrorist played by Ben Kingsley, attack him at his home, destroying the personal world he has fought so hard to protect, Stark suits up again to strike back. Along the way, he uncovers the secrets of a top secret super soldier experiment called Extremis and crosses paths with remorseless scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).

This third installment in the series is noticeably darker and more serious than its predecessors – the villains of the film are remorseless sociopaths, and Stark’s trademark playboy lifestyle has been shoved aside to portray Stark as a damaged man after the events of The Avengers. Black succeeds in moving the movie along at a breakneck pace, and the story is never heavy or grim enough to forsake its fantastical comic-book origins. The film’s only big flaws arrive in the form of its villains; though the Extremis mutants, glowing with molten heat, are terrific to look at on the screen, their motivations leave a little to be desired, and Pearce’s Killian ultimately becomes a little too megalomaniacal for the film’s own good. However, the finished product is so sleek and fun that it’s easy to overlook the film’s weaker aspects.

Black’s greatest tricks in Iron Man 3 are the sharp plot twists that he conjures up, especially around the Mandarin. The movie’s twists lend it an intelligence that both of its predecessors lacked; for the first time in the entire Marvel franchise, I felt intellectually involved in a superhero movie. As much as it is a fun, go-for-broke comic book spectacular, Iron Man 3 also has a lot on its mind, about politics, about identity, about the nature of heroism, and in particular about America’s War on Terror. Stark says early on in the film that, through his own arrogance, he has created “demons,” and the idea of individuals creating their own adversaries to have someone to fight is a non-too-subtle comment on American foreign policy that manifests itself in a huge way with the Mandarin’s storyline. To say anymore would be spoiling one of Iron Man 3‘s biggest and best surprises.

Black directs his action sequences with a pedal-to-the-medal urgency that the previous films lacked. The Mandarin’s assault on Stark’s home with attack helicopters is a heart-pounding, harrowing sequence, as Stark struggles to utilize his latest invention (armor that literally flies at him piece-by-piece, knocking him around a fair deal as it attaches) while his home crumbles around him. When Stark comes across mutated Extremis soldiers, glowing with molten heat, the ensuing battles decimate entire towns and one large jet but never lose their sense of immediate danger. And the finale, as Iron Man and his suits face off against the Extremis mutants on an oil tanker, is a jaw-droppingly ambitious, endlessly inventive piece of movie magic.

Iron Man 3 benefits from Black’s penchant for spur-of-the-moment humor; Stark’s one-liners have never been better, and he doesn’t even have the best ones. There’s a terrific sight gag with an impeccably-timed turning helmet and hilarious deliveries from everyone from Stark to a nameless Mandarin henchman (after watching Iron Man decimate his fellow henchmen, the poor guy begs, “Don’t shoot, please! Honestly, I hate working here, they are so weird”). Iron Man 3 also features one of the most fun and unexpected pairings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe;  when Stark crash-lands in a rural Tennessee town, he is forced to team up with Harley, a precocious, potato-gun-wielding kid (played by Ty Simpkins) who gets a fair number of great lines of his own.

All of the performances in Iron Man 3 are terrific. Downey Jr. finally gets to show off his dramatic range in this installment, presenting a more haunted Stark, plagued by nightmares and terrors he can’t accept. His manic energy is less of a playboy swagger this time around than an ineffective mask behind which he hides his crippling insecurities and anxieties. Watching him struggle to stay functional throughout the movie adds a human element to the larger-than-life character. Funnily enough, he spends less time in the suit in this outing than in the previous installments (it can even be remotely controlled at this point), but that doesn’t necessarily feel like a bad thing. When Stark infiltrates the Mandarin’s hideout using only weapons he cobbled together from a Home Depot, it’s more exhilarating than anything he does while inside his armor. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the idea Iron Man has transcended the suits and weaponry – Tony Stark, in his transformation from playboy to selfless hero, can truly claim by the end of the film that, even without his suits, he will always be Iron Man.

Kingsley walks a delicate line with his Mandarin, but it’s a beautifully measured, consistently surprising performance, and as he growls lines like “You’ll never see me coming” with a Joker-meets-Colonel Kurtz malevolence, you can tell that Kingsley is having a blast. Guy Pearce, at his nastiest, plays Killian with a sneering viciousness. Whereas the Mandarin is more a physically jarring villain, Killian appears as a wolf in sheep’s clothing but is ultimately no less deadly. Paltrow makes the best of the little she has for most of the movie, but she emerges as a kick-ass heroine reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in the glorious finale. Don Cheadle, as Tony’s iron-clad buddy Colonel Rhodes (known to the press as War Machine and Iron Patriot), brings a physical spryness and nervous energy to the role that Terrence Howard (who played Rhodes in the first Iron Man) clearly lacked. Sadly, Rebecca Hall is woefully underutilized as a botanist involved with the Extremis program, barely sticking on screen long enough to register. Finally, Simpkins is a terrific addition as Harley, making me hope that Marvel finds a way to include him in future movies.

Iron Man 3 proves that there’s still a lot of life in this franchise, though it will be hard for other directors to top the thrills and smarts of this installment. Black’s blistering, boisterous direction and intelligent script ultimately elevate this threequel above typical blockbuster fare. If Marvel wants to keep their franchises fresh, they need to try to replicate this movie’s success by thinking creatively with their directors and storylines. Because it’s brave, smart, and surprising, but most of all because it’s overwhelmingly entertaining, Iron Man 3 is a ride well-worth taking. A-

Image Courtesy: ScreenCrush.

Amazing Spider-Man 2: Paul Giammati’s Rhino Sighted!

Paul Giammati as The Rhino.

Paul Giammati as The Rhino.

Entertainment Weekly recently released the above photo, the first of Paul Giammati’s Rhino, one of the two villains the webslinger will face in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The superhero sequel is set to swing into theaters next May.

In the comics, the Rhino was always a very physical villain, lacking the intellect of Electro or Doctor Octopus, and it looks like Giammati’s take on the character will also be very visual. The character sports a barbed wire tattoo across his forehead, in addition to strange-looking letters on his fingers. He also doesn’t look too happy in the above image.

The sequel, starring Andrew Garfield as the wallcrawler and Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy, is also set to feature Jamie Foxx as Electro, Shailene Woodley as Mary-Jane Watson and Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn.

Image Courtesy: Entertainment Weekly.

DVD Review: Captain America – The First Avenger

Captain America faces off with HYDRA troops.

Captain America faces off with HYDRA troops.

In 2011, a year that was oversaturated with comic-book movies, this one stands out. Boosted by a slew of great performances and exciting action sequences, Captain America succeeds with style. The story, set during World War II, starts with a scrawny asthmatic weakling named Steve Rogers being repeatedly turned away by recruitment officers because of his physical attributes. His desire to join the army stems from the purest of purposes: he is a true patriot, with a strong sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. He gets his chance to fight when he is selected by a scientist to become a ‘supersoldier’, incredibly strong not only in mind but also in body. Rogers soon meets a formidable opponent in the form of the mysterious, cruel Red Skull, a Nazi in charge of the evil HYDRA division determined to harness an extraterrestrial power to destroy the United States.

Chris Evans, who previously portrayed the Human Torch in the lackluster Fantastic Four films, is excellent and believable as Rogers. He fully brings to life the larger-than-life Captain America figure, playing him with straightforward sensibility and an air of humility even in the face of the character’s extraordinary achievements. Hayley Atwell, who plays the beautiful, no-nonsense Peggy Carter, is both witty and appealing enough to make the audience fall for her as quickly as Captain America does. Hugo Weaving plays the Red Skull with bravado and an air of menace, while Tommy Lee Jones has great fun as a grizzled, cranky Army colonel.

While the idea of a Nazi trying to take over the world has been used to death, and the dialogue is straightforward enough to make me wish that the screenwriters had tried a little harder, Captain America is mostly a thrilling, pleasantly old-fashioned super-hero flick that does a better than average job of creating a likable hero, and introduces the Captain. What it has working for it is that it is undeniably fun. Whatever its shortcomings, the film is a straight-up good time. B+

Image courtesy: Uwire.

Movies to Look Forward to in May

The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann’s lavish take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of love in the Roaring Twenties will certainly be a treat for the senses, but I’m optimistic that it will also highlight the story’s fascinating characters and remain faithful to Fitzgerald’s weighty themes of corruption, extravagance, and heartbreak. With actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, and Joel Edgerton on board, and Baz Luhrmann’s distinctive visual flair, this Gatsby is actually starting to look pretty great. DiCaprio looks perfectly cast as the titular Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who embarks on an affair with the shallow, materialistic Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan). This adaptation has a lot of potential, and if it is received with the same adoration that readers still show the novel after more than half a century, Gatsby could be the runaway hit of the year.

DiCaprio channels his inner Gatsby.

DiCaprio channels his inner Gatsby.

Iron Man 3 – In this, the third outing for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, the man in the iron suit is confronted by his most dangerous foe yet, a mysterious terrorist called the Mandarin. As Tony’s personal world is torn apart by a ruthless foe, he embarks on a quest for vengeance. With Lethal Weapon helmer Shane Black at the wheel, Iron Man 3 is poised to erase the empty, dull spectacles of its predecessor with a more grounded, intense, and certainly dark storyline. When you look at the supporting cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, and (in an inspired bit of casting) Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, Iron Man 3’s critical and commercial success are all but assured. A smaller but just as action-packed superhero piece might be just the kick Marvel needs to start its Phase Two group of films after the colossal grandeur of The Avengers.

Tony Stark rallies his troops in this official concept art.

Tony Stark rallies his troops in this official concept art.

Star Trek Into Darkness – It took long enough, but geek god JJ Abrams’ follow-up to his 2009 resuscitation of the Star Trek franchise is finally here. And, like Iron Man 3, JJ Abrams is taking the crew of the USS Enterprise on a darker, more serious adventure this time around. When an unstoppable terrorist attacks Earth and targets Starfleet, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew track him to a war-torn world, where they find themselves fighting for their lives. The film’s ace in the hole is certainly its villain, played by Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch, about whom Abrams and the rest of the cast have been strangely silent. Whoever Cumberbatch turns out to be (my money’s on a relation of Khan), audiences are in for an exhilarating space adventure.

Spock and Kirk face off against new adversary John Harrison.

Spock and Kirk face off against new adversary John Harrison.

Fast and Furious 6 – Usually, I wouldn’t get excited for a Vin Diesel action vehicle, especially a sequel. However, the Fast series’ last two installments have been surprisingly solid popcorn flicks with originality and a gleeful devil-may-care feel. This time around, the series moves even further away from its street-racing origins, as Dom Torreto (Diesel) and his crew team up with former adversary DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to take down criminal mastermind Owen Shaw. Torreto must try to keep his emotions in check when he learns that his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), whom he believed dead, is alive and working with Shaw. Expect another edge-of-your-seat blockbuster with flair to spare.

A member of Torreto's team takes a leap of faith.

A member of Torreto’s team takes a leap of faith.

Images courtesy:

http://thegreatgatsby.warnerbros.com/

http://www.hdwallpapers.in/

http://www.startrek.com/article/a-look-at-2013-star-trek-into-darkness

DVD Review: The Avengers

Courtesy The Weeklings.com.

The Avengers assemble during a New York battle.

Marvel’s fans, particularly those of the die-hard comic-book variety, are a patient bunch. For 4 years, they watched and waited in nervous anticipation as the studio baited them with post-credit teasers that worked to slowly draw together the characters from five different superhero box-office successes. Marvel’s build-up to The Avengers was the most drawn-out in Hollywood history; since 2008’s Iron Man, through 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel was slowly putting the pieces together for one colossal blockbuster. The hype around it was massive, perhaps more than any other film ever made. And it fell to Joss Whedon, a relative unknown to mainstream audiences, to make a film a capable of living up to it. Whedon, a geek god thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity and Dollhouse, had never even been near a movie of this magnitude before.

Luckily, both for The Avengers and his career, there’s not a trace of jitters from Whedon here; he directs with the eye of a true fanboy, making sure that there’s not a dull moment between the heavy-duty, jaw-dropping CGI battles that appear often, but not too often, throughout the film. He also has a keen eye for humor; this is the funniest Marvel movie by far, and the audience I saw the film with back when it was in theaters roared so hard and so often that entire lines of dialogue went unheard. And that’s a shame, because the screenplay is a gem, giving every character, even the one described as “a giant green rage monster” by his fellow heroes/misfits, time to shine along with some killer one-liners. Take for instance the wonderfully snarky and egotistical Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) , who taunts his teammates even as he quietly pulls them together, nicknaming long-locked, arrogant Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) “Point Break” and “Shakespeare in the Park,” while christening expert archer Hawkeye “Legolas.”

The Avengers begins with a bang, as eye-patch-wearing super-spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, finally in a substantial role after being delegated to second-long post-credit teasers for far too long) barely escapes a top-secret SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) base being brought down, in true blockbuster fashion, by the diabolical Norse god of mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has returned to wreak havoc on Earth after being chased off by his brother Thor last year in the latter’s stand-alone film.

Unfortunately, the movie has no choice but to reel it back a bit after the opening, as the superheroes are introduced. Among the freaks of nature Fury attempts to pair together in order to stop Loki from destroying the world are WWII-era super-soldier Captain America (Chris Evans), re-awakened after 70 years on ice, the beautiful, deadly and and aptly-named femme fatale Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and good-natured scientist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has an unfortunate tendency to destroy everything around him as the monstrous Hulk when angered. So many characters need time to develop, and Whedon knows that, taking the time to flesh them all out suitably. As the superheroes come together, it soon becomes evident that the biggest threat to the team is not Loki; rather, it’s their own lone-wolf tendencies and inflated egos. Some of the better scenes in the movie involve the heroes clashing with each other; a forest-set brawl between Iron Man, Thor and Captain America results in the utter destruction of the forest itself, while a thrilling sequence taking place aboard a massive airborne SHIELD base sees Black Widow fleeing a vengeful Hulk.

Ultimately, the Avengers find their way to New York City, where a massive battle ensues between the six teammates and an army of aliens called the Chitauri led by Loki. The effects are Oscar-worthy, and the action seamlessly follows all of the characters as they work to evacuate innocent New Yorkers and repel the invaders. In spite of this, however, the finale is the movie’s weakest link. As the robotic space-ships ravage the city, there is an unmistakably Transformers-esque vibe; the aliens are expendable unknowns and the film does nothing to change that. What saves the scene is that, unlike Transformers, this team of heroes is endlessly entertaining to watch, whether it’s the Hulk doing some good old-fashioned smashing or Hawkeye shooting arrows from the rooftops with enough accuracy to make Robin Hood blush. It’s no wonder that, when the camera pans across all of the heroes preparing for battle in the middle of the war-torn city (the money-shot to end all money-shots), the audience erupted into cheering and applause.

As far as the acting is concerned, there isn’t a mediocre performance in the bunch. Chris Evans is believable and winning as the idealistic fish out of water Captain, Robert Downey Jr. plays Stark with his trademark blend of panache and smarmy irreverence and Mark Ruffalo is the best Hulk yet, playing Banner as a funny, bashful guy willing to acknowledge and sometimes even accept “the other guy.” Tom Hiddleston makes for a great villain, playing Loki with a snakelike malevolence and psychotic charm that was sorely lacking the last time he played the character. Even Scarlett Johansson, whose character is required to do little other than look sultry, is charismatic enough to warrant a Black Widow spin-off, which I have no doubt will eventually happen.
In conclusion, while The Avengers is far from perfect, it is everything that I hoped it would be and more. Spectacular action sequences, a phenomenal cast of characters and Whedon’s irresistible knack for comedy combine to make The Avengers not only the biggest comic-book movie of all time, but also one of the best. A-
Courtesy: The Weekling.

DVD Review: Dredd 3-D

Courtesy Blastr.com.

Urban patrols Peach Trees in ‘Dredd.’

2012 was likely the strongest year for superhero movies in cinematic history: The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises set box office records (with Avengers clocking in as the third highest-grossing film of all time) and garnered immense critical praise. Following this wildly successful triumvirate of blockbusters is certainly an undesirable task for any budding comic-book adaptation, particularly one with much less name recognition than its contemporaries.

Enter Dredd, Lionsgate’s bold attempt to breathe new life into the British comic strip ‘Judge Dredd.’ The film takes place in a violent, dystopian North America, inside the impoverished city-state Mega-City One, which stretches from Boston to Washington. In order to combat the colossal crime rate in this metropolis, elite police officers known as Judges act as judge, jury and executioner, meting out their own harsh, bloody brand of justice whenever and to whoever they see fit. The most famous and feared of the Judges is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), a supercop who lives and kills by the book, without any pretense of a life outside of it. Dredd is called to the scene of a gruesome double homicide inside Peach Trees, a crime-ridden tower complex ruled with an iron fist by merciless drug kingpin Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). As the main supplier of a new drug called SLO-MO, which allows users to experience time at one-percent normal speed, Ma-Ma will do anything to protect her investment. Dredd brings along Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a headstrong rookie with unusually strong psychic abilities. When the two Judges carry out a drug bust and take Ma-Ma’s right-hand man prisoner, Ma-Ma initiates a lockdown, trapping them inside with hundreds of criminals, no way out and no way to call for backup.

Confining Dredd to the closed environment of Peach Trees is one of many smart choices by screenwriter Alex Garland. The concrete setting prevents Dredd from spending too much time developing its world, and wisely allows it to avoid the highly visual blockbuster trappings that other recent superhero films possessed. Instead, the setting allows the film to focus on Judge Dredd himself. The character is something of an enigma: played with deadpan Eastwood-like gravitas by Urban, Dredd delivers his lines with a gargling-marbles growl already familiar to fans of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The upper two thirds of his face are obscured by a helmet for practically the entire film, lending credence to the perception of Dredd as the faceless, merciless hand of the law. Dredd is pretty much the epitome of an antihero: he never changes, adapts or shows any sign of humanity under his helmet. As an army of thugs comes after him, he simply takes them on, crashing through goon after goon like an unstoppable juggernaut. After a summer of wisecracking, broadly smiling big-screen heroes, it’s refreshing to watch an unapologetically simple, rough and tough protagonist at work. What stops Dredd from becoming heavy, weighed-down and monotonous is Urban’s wry, self-aware performance. Whether delivering well-placed roundhouse kicks or perfectly timed one-liners, he’s a blast to watch.

Olivia Thirlby is restricted to a supporting role but makes the most of what she is given; the fresh, more human Judge Anderson (who tellingly leaves her helmet at home) is the film’s moral center and an able foil for Dredd. Thirlby plays her with an earnestness that’s compelling but never distracting. Sadly, there’s not much to say about Game of Thrones’ actress Lena Headey in Dredd; despite her role as the lead villainess, she’s not on screen long enough to make much of a lasting impression. She’s evil, ruthless and completely disposable. In the end, Ma-Ma is just another petty criminal for Dredd to dourly dispatch.

What sets Dredd apart from other comic-book adaptations is its darkness. Director Pete Travis doesn’t shy away from the grittiness of the film’s universe. Instead, he fully embraces the blood and guts that most superhero movies consciously choose to ignore. Dredd is a gratuitously bloody and graphic in-your-face experience that takes full advantage of its hard R-rating. Characters are skinned, riddled with bullets, fall from great heights to splatter on the ground, and burn to death, all in eye-catching slow motion as experienced by SLO-MO users. The special effects in Dredd are particularly splendid; the dystopian city landscape conjures up a bleak, grimy image of poverty, depression and decay in only a few minutes, while stunningly vibrant, colorful slow motion sequences stay with you long after the credits have rolled. This is the rare movie where 3-D is extremely well utilized and worth the extra few bucks.

Dredd’s excessive violence serves a purpose: it grounds the film as a dark, gritty, very effective action movie. This is a superhero film for mature audiences, one that revels in over-the-top blood and carnage. Thrilling and pulpy as it is, Dredd’s emphasis is squarely on its faceless protagonist; even as the action sequences build and the bodies pile up, the audience gets the sense that for the unflappable Judge Dredd, this is just a typical day in the life. As much as Dredd is not for everyone, those who can see past the blood will find a surprisingly unique, massively entertaining sci-fi thriller that doubles as a likely series starter (though the film’s regrettably poor box office earnings cast doubt on the possibility of future installments.) If Dredd is any indication, Travis, Urban and Garland are just warming up, and, if the film can find new life on DVD, the best is yet to come. A-  

Originally printed in THE FORUM. Reprinted with permission.

Image courtesy of Blastr.com.