Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review: Elysium

4 years ago (Christ, I feel old) Neil Blomkamp exploded onto the scene with District 9, which became a surprise critical darling (and eventual Oscar nominee) but also a pretty solid sized hit. It managed to mix hard edged, R-Rated action with surprisingly intelligent political commentary to not only become one of the best films of 2009, but also one of the (if not THE) best sci-fi action movie of the new millennium, and the movie that finally rescued the increasingly dead summer it came at the end of. And while Elysium isn’t quite as good as District 9 (mostly cause there are VERY few things that are as good as District 9), it’s an extremely engaging, well made movie on it’s own merits. Easily one of the best action movies of the year, and exactly what this increasingly dead summer needed…huh.

Anyway, onto the plot. It’s the future, shit sucks (at some point in my life, I will get tired of that joke). In this particular case, Earth got royally boned by a mix of pollution and overpopulation and the rich people fled to the titular low-orbit space station (that looks a little bit like a Halo Ring crossbred with the Citadel, but now I’m just getting too nerdy). Life is awesome up on Elysium, no disease or aging or anything of that nature, but life sucks down below and immigrating up there is strictly controlled by Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster) The main character is Max (Matt Damon) a former thief who’s trying to live clean, but an accident leaves him with bad radiation poisoning and 5 days to live. So, he joins up with the underground who outfit him with a robot suit and a mission to fulfill so he can earn a ride to Elysium where they can fix it.

That’s already a lot of balls in the air, and they only increase when Sharito Copely shows up as Agent Kruger, Delacourt’s brutal man on the ground on Earth, or when Max’s ex arrives with her own reasons to want to hit up Elysium. But one of the reasons I like this movie, or more specifically it’s script, is that these characters all have fully fleshed out roles and motivations in the story. The setup, at least on the ground level, is pretty simple, but it gets complicated when these characters and their goals collide.

The design of everything is pretty damned solid, the washed out, desert look of Earth and the upscale suburbia of Elysium are both well realized and interesting. Of course, since Earth is primarily desert, with a large portion of Spanish speaking people of clear Latino descent, and Elysium looks like well manicured suburbia populated entirely by clean looking white people, well that lets me segue awkwardly into the political commentary. And yes, in case you were wondering, the political allegory is about as subtle as a brick to the head, but it works, remarkably well. Maybe it’s just that it works on the same tonal level throughout, or maybe it’s just that it makes sense and isn’t (overly) preachy, but I never found it bothersome.

Or maybe that’s just because so much of the film is devoted to the extremely well put together action scenes. Copley’s Agent Kruger is a kickass villain with an awesome skill set, the robots are fun antagonists and most of the action scenes move at a good clip and are extremely well put together. Indeed, one of my few complaints is that the film seems to be more action than anything else, but that’s barely a complaint as is.

Most of the actors are really on point. Matt Damon’s been doing the action hero thing for a while, and while it seemed odd at first, he’s really good at it at this stage. Jody Foster is a good behind-the-scenes antagonist, but the bizarre standout is Copley as Agent Kruger (who some of you might remember as the lead from District 9). He’s playing the part all the way to the hilt, with some bizarre ticks and interesting additions to keep his character from being a cliché. He’s turning out to be a really solid actor, so I’m really looking forward to seeing more from him.

If I had to have a complaint, besides the aforementioned heavy focus on action, it’s that I feel like the movie should slow down a bit. Not in pacing, it’s paced fine, but with all of it’s ideas. It keeps throwing us new cool stuff for the action, and I occasionally feel like it should slow down and let us appreciate them. But when your main complaint about a movie is that there should be more of it…well let’s just say, that’s a pretty goddamn big recommendation.

Elysium is a massive injection of kickass action and smart storytelling into Summer 2013, both things that have been notably missing all summer. It’s not the equal of the legitimate masterpiece that was District 9 but it’s an awesome action movie on it’s own merits. August might be the month that finally rescues this summer, but even if it’s not Elysium is an extremely good summer blockbuster and well worth your time and money.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he find South African accents extremely distracting outside a South African setting.

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