Monday, December 30, 2013

Elysium (2013)

I was a fan of Neill Blomkamp's debut, "District 9." While it was as subtle in its social commentary as a flare gun fired off in an elevator, it did its job quite well and was a fun action film despite the overly shaky camera. After seeing his sophomore feature, "Elysium," I get the feeling that "a fun action film that is too jittery with the camera and too telegraphed with the social justice angle" is going to be a common phrase heaped upon Blomkamp's filmography. To be fair, there are a lot worse things that you could say about a movie, so don't feel like that's writing the guy off. He's looking to have quite the career ahead of him as a director.

The film takes place in the future, where the Earth is a barely habitable, overcrowded wasteland, and the rich live in a space station called Elysium, which looks a lot like The Citadel from "Mass Effect." It's a paradise that has everything you could possibly want, including perfect health and essentially immortality as they possess this crazy technology that instantly cures anything wrong with you. Anything. Seriously, at one point a dude gets his face blown off with a grenade, but since his brain is stilling functioning they just strap him in there, it reconstructs his head, and he's fine. It even keeps his beard. Basically it's that thing from "The Fifth Element" that reconstructs Milla Jovovich. Anyway, the rich are quite happy up in Elysium, and like to kill anyone who tries to smuggle themselves onto there.

Dah dah dah dah dah...dut dut...dut dut...

Meanwhile everyone else on Earth lives in squalor, including Max (Matt Damon), a reformed criminal who's just trying to save up enough money to one day make it up to Elysium, a dream that is a pathetic long-shot at best. When an accident on the job leaves him with five days to live, he kick-starts his dream by rejoining the criminal world to make it up to Elysium and their life-saving medbays. During his quest he finds himself in the middle of a struggle that could mean the end of Elysium's isolationist policy, and the salvation of countless millions on Earth.

Man, Nerf used to be awesome back in the day.

The film is a thinly veiled but well deserved middle finger to the overly wealthy, and it's not subtle with it at all (like, AT ALL), but the characters are well written enough and believable enough to pull the story off. While Jodie Foster's performance as Delacourt, the main villain for most of the movie, may come across as slightly over-the-top in her wickedness, it can't be said that her actions as the head of security on a place like Elysium didn't make sense, as did the actions of pretty much everyone else in the film. Even the setup probably wouldn't be that far off from reality, if the technology was there. Compare that with crap like "The Purge," which took place in a land where nothing made sense. With a story like this which is actually fairly plausible, the whole lack of subtlety aspect seems less and less important when you consider that at least for once it's well done social commentary.

While Matt Damon and the rest of the cast are all fine, the guy who steals the show was Sharlto Copley as Kruger, a mercenary working for Delacourt. I really like Copley as an actor, and here he's this off-the-wall psychopath who goes through everything that's around him like a sweaty wrecking ball, sneering in his barely decipherable Afrikaans accent. He's a delight to watch. He almost seems like he belongs in another movie, actually. He's way too much of a Bond Number Two henchman for this. But he is difficult to understand.

"Oy inno gwanna kill 'im dee boyke."
"...I'm sorry boss, you're gonna boink what?"

Like "District 9," the story builds up the majority of the first half of the film before being a straight up action flick by the mid-point. Some may call that a slow straight, but decent characterization is nothing to roll your eyes at. And when it does fire up all of its cylinders, "Elysium" is a hard-hitting, violent romp that has enough "OH DAMN" moments to satisfy the action fan. Like I said earlier, the camera does tend to drift to the shaky side of things, but it's dialed back a bit from how distracting it was in "District 9."

Overall this one was pretty satisfying. It's not going to reinvent the wheel or even be remembered with any great reverence, if remembered by many at all given a couple years, but it's a decent entry into the annals of the Sci-Fi/Action genre. And while it may be doomed to be lumped in with the many, many films that are just like it in terms of plot and quality, that doesn't make it bad. It just makes it "A Sci-Fi/Action Movie." And you've seen those before. If you want to see another one, hey, try "Elysium." It's decent.

Check out the trailer for "Elysium!"

THE BOTTOM LINE - A competent and satisfying film for those who are in the mood for some distopian sci-fi. Sharlto Copley is the main attraction, and makes it worth watching even if the rest wasn't anything too mind-blowing. It's a little awkward in how overt it is with the social commentary, but that doesn't mean it's not completely correct in what it's saying. That goes a long way.

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