Saturday, September 12, 2015

Elysium

This review is Spoiler-free.

Elysium is Greek mythology's name for heaven, and in the orbit of Earth in the not-too-distant-future, the populated satellite called the same is aptly named. It is beautiful lush and rich, rotating to give artificial gravity and filled with every luxury. Only the wealthy and the important live there, the rest of the human race still live on Earth were conditions are grim. Los Angeles is little more than a slum, and the dismally poor and sick residents are so desperate to go to Elysium to receive healing that they regularly risk death trying to sneak shuttles through Elysium's well-guarded air space.

Awesomely designed and beautifully rendered. I'd definitely live there.

From this world, comes Max. As long as he's been on Earth, Elysium has been in the sky, and like everyone else, he dreams of going there. But for now he just tries to keep out of trouble, something he's unreasonably not good at for a reformed car thief. A work accident leaves him more desperate than ever to get to Elysium, so in exchange for one of those risky tickets, he agrees to help his old partner in crime with a job.

Matt Damon plays this desperate everyman, and hero of the whole show, but doesn't succeed in making a particularly compelling character out of Max. His arc was the tried and true formula of reluctant hero, so it wasn't bad, but neither did he stand out from the pack with it, or divert from the predictability attached to it. Still he was likable and easy to root for, and Damon gave it plenty of gusto.

Nice suit, nice haircut, nice tattoos. Still not as cool as Jason Bourne.

He is easily overshadowed by the villain though. And no, not Jodie Foster's character -- her evil overlady's character arc matched the typical quality of the hero, and was overshadowed too, by the real main villain. Kruger. Where there is Neill Blomkamp (this movie's writer and director), there is Sharlto Copley, and where Sharlto Copley goes, awesomeness follows in his wake. Here he is crazy and psychopathic assassin Kruger who does the dirty work to keep Elysium clean and clear of poor ruffians and vagabonds. Kruger isn't a character arc kind of guy, he's more the "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-have-fun-and-don't-forget-to-laugh-manically" type, and it's all kinds of great, resulting in the film's best and most defining moments and scenes. He may be the villain, but he's also the hero -- saving the film from an melodramatic and unmemorable demise by pulling it out of that safe little bubble it had no business being in as an R-rated sci-fi movie. Without him there still would have been plenty of language to earn the rating, but he makes it feel worthy of the R.

Kruger knows how to cut loose. And blow things up. Literally, and figuratively -- but mostly literally.

The inside of that bubble, where the movie spends most it's time is not all bad of course, but it is a pretty mixed bag-- er, bubble. The message and politics was the low point. It was very heavy-handed and forced, resulting in several obvious holes, and very little sense. For just one example: are we really expected to believe that all the rich people are so evil/ignorant/self-absorbed that they couldn't even donate a few magical-healing machines to Earth? Why are there no good, kind rich people? A sadly large number of plot points are similarly contrived or looked over. Fortunately, the cool and entertaining parts of the film distract from the problematic bits well enough to tip the balance in its favor.

On the action and purely entertaining side of things, there were no problems. The gimmicky appeal of the performance enhancing exo-skeleton suit Max wears, plus other futuristic weaponry gadgets and slick, innovative filming style of the brutal fight scenes all kept things interesting and exciting. Things were particularly exciting and exceptionally memorable, as you may imagine, when Kruger was around. I cannot stress enough how much he helped give the action that gritty, disturbing, unpredictability it needed. The action was never bad, and always the best part of the movie, but when Kruger was involved, it was downright great.

Max reloads the gun as fast as he can, but Kruger still walks toward him, because you know what? Hurrying isn't as cool, and being cool is the most important thing.

At the heart of this piece there's not much more that what you would expect to find inside that previously mentioned safety bubble; stale air. The failed attempt of making an emotional connection with the audience never detracted from the movie, so for me it's totally neutral. I went into this film wanting to see a hardcore futuristic shoot-'em-up showdown between Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley, and since that's exactly what I got, I never felt the loss of the half-hearted heart.

Neill Blomkamp's second feature film may be a letdown in comparison to his astonishing first, District 9, but judged as it should be, for its ability to entertain as a sci-fi action movie, there's more to be admired and entertained by than admonished and bored by -- with it's totally original if occasionally contrived plot, thrilling action, cool hero and even cooler villain. Elysium is a plenty exciting and fun action-filled sci-fi adventure, even without quite reaching its heavenly goal.

2 comments:

  1. I skipped this movie. Somehow the trailers did not interest me enough. Your review confirms that my thoughts were right about this one.

    B2B.

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    Replies
    1. I mean, for a cool, no-need-to-think-too-hard action flick, it's absolutely worth the watch -- but the meaning of it didn't resonate with me.

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