Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Elysium Review

Neill Blomkamp's District 9 was an unexpected hit. Made for for a mere 30 million dollars (and let's face it, that's nothing for a major film) it garnered rave reviews and grossed over 200 million dollars.

Now armed with a beefier $115 million budget and big stars like Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, can Blomkamp produce the same magic with his follow up, Elysium?

It's 2154 and the world has gone to hell. The rich and privileged have fled our overpopulated mudball of a planet and set up shop in a swanky space station. The rest of us plebs are living in poverty in miserable, crime ridden slums. Matt Damon plays Max, an ex-con desperately trying to stay on the straight and narrow. When he's accidentally irradiated on the job Max is left with 5 days to live. Desperate, he turns back to crime in an effort to get up to Elysium and use their amazing medical technology to cure himself. Of course along the way he'll become involved in something much bigger and have the chance to change the whole damn system.

You can instantly see the social and political commentary director/writer Blomkamp has seeded into this one. We have the class warfare, health care and immigration all at the forefront. The 1% living like kings with all the wealth, with amazing medical care the 99% can only dream of. The impoverished making desperate attempts to make it to this promised land crammed into illegal ships. While these issues are easily spotted and at the forefront, it's really just a vehicle to get the action and the plot going. It's a little smarter than your average action film but don't worry, this is much lighter fair than District 9. Blomkamp's goal was a large scale action blockbuster and he hits that formula very well. Don't think too hard about the plot and just enjoy the mayhem.

Matt Damon does well as our lead, Max. At first I didn't think much of him in this one and that you could have plugged anyone into the role. As I've dwelt on it I've realised Damon has a real relatable underdog quality to him. You just want to root for the guy as the world continues to beat him down throughout the film. Even later when he's drilled into that exoskeleton and kicking ass he's still brings that vulnerability while being a complete badass. Apparently the role was first offered to Eminem. First of all: no, just no. Put him in this same movie and I'd be rooting for the robots for sure.

Fans of District 9 will be pleased to see Sharlto Copley again in a major role again. Whereas 9 had him in the role of bumbling bureaucrat turned hero, Elysium gives him the chance to cut loose in a villainous way as a vicious mercenary. Kruger is downright psychotic and a pure joy to watch. He comes off as legitimately unhinged and unpredictable in every scene he's in. It's damn entertaining. Really, we should have more films with crazy villains with South African accents. Also, can someone at Sony sign this guy to play Kraven the Hunter in a future Spider-Man film? He'd totally nail it.

The rest of the cast do their jobs. Jodie Foster is the cold, ice queen Secretary of Defence defending Elysium's borders at any cost. She's hugely cliched with some cartoony dialogue. Her accent is a little odd too. Was it meant to be French? Alice Braga plays Frey, the obligatory love interest. Her whole character seemed slightly tacked on. The long lost childhood love our hero randomly reconnects with just as the adventure begins. Oh, and of course, she has a terminally ill daughter just to double our hero's motivation to get to Elysium. I think I wouldn't of minded if Frey was just a girl he falls for along the way rather than the childhood love angle. I did enjoy some of the smaller parts with random actors from TVand film showing up. I spied Daniel Jackson from Stargate, Tony Stark's captor from Iron Man and the Fed from Prisonbreak in there. I love playing remember the face.

The effects are really top shelf. Blomkamp has a real gift for putting crazy future technology into a gritty real world setting and making it work. Nothing seems out of place, even in the slums of South America. It all just seems so plausible. The robots, ships and Elysium itself are all gorgeously designed and exceptionally executed. There's some really lovely cinematography in this one, especially in the scenes in space. This is a big screen movie that needs be gawked at in a big way.

The action, once it finally kicks in, is great fun and moves at breakneck pace. I will warn you that Blomkamp loves him some blood and goresplosions. Lot's of "ooooh's" from the crowd in my screening for some of the more memorable deaths. The last 45 minutes or so of the film are just pure chaos from every direction. We have our everyman hero literally drilled into an exosuit fighting the privileged system and crazy, cartoony South African mercenaries. There's also some really great future weaponry throughout all this. It's just really fun on every level.

I will detract a couple points for the shaky cam used (particularly in the climax). It made things a little harder to follow than it really should be. All these amazing things are happening and I want to be able to see them all clearly!

As far as big, dumb action mayhem goes, Elysium is one of the better ones. A relatable hero, a crazy entertaining villain, gorgeous visuals and inventive action all wrapped in a half decent plot. Go see it somewhere big and loud and enjoy the ride.

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