The latest smash may well turn out to be "Dredd" - it opens here today - which has ruled the box office in Europe for a couple of weeks and is pulling an impressive 80 percent-plus on websites that compile reviews.
It's based on the popular Judge Dredd comic book series about a grim police officer who operates, lethally, in the overcrowded and lawless cities of the future. The script pairs Dredd with a female rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), both pitted against a crime boss (Lena Headey) who traps them in a locked-down apartment tower full of assassins.
Urban describes the movie as a comic-book adaptation with a sophisticated spin: 3-D cinematography by Oscar-winner Anthony Dod Mantle and an offbeat script by Danny Boyle collaborator Alex Garland.
Garland, he said, went against the grain of the typical male-demo action spectacle by giving the best roles to women.
"It's one of the things that sets this movie apart," Urban said. "It's not often that you have a kick-ass woman in a film like this. We have two. And, really, Olivia is the emotional core of the movie, her journey from being a rookie to getting her street cred."
Her character, he said, is also the only real window into the world of Dredd, who wears a helmet throughout and speaks in short bursts of terse dialogue.
"It's through her character that you get to understand more about Dredd," he said. "He's just a man. He has no superpowers. A lot of weapons, but no superpowers. I had to find the human being underneath the armor. And one of the things that makes him human is his fallibility. He dismisses Anderson when he meets her; he doesn't think she's qualified. He misjudges her, and in the course of their relationship, he comes to realize he's made a mistake, and he admits it. I found that compelling."
And he's thrilled with the way the movie's 3-D visuals turned out. "The technology has been exploited, no doubt. There have been some cynical presentations, cashing in on the fact that 3-D can generate additional box office," he said. "In our film, the 3-D is extraordinary. Anthony Dod Mantle really put an artistic stamp on the film. There are points that transcend genre filmmaking and become cinematic art."
Urban's favorites involve a drug that slows the user's perception of time, something that Mantle used for several sequences of extremely slow-motion photography.
"The movie really goes against convention," he said. "You're not supposed to take the audience out of the picture, but we do that here, sometimes for an image that's violent, sometimes for something that's simply beautiful. For a moment, the audience is lost in that plane of beauty before we're snapped back to reality. It's extraordinary."
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or email@example.com. Read his blog at philly.com/KeepItReel.