Monday, August 12, 2013

Matt Damon, Leader of Occupy Elysium

     Back in 2009, director Neil Blomkamp burst on the scene like one of the bodies that he is so good at exploding into mush with District 9, one of my favorite films of that year and a wonderfully original sci-fi ride. Starring another newbie, Sharlto Copley, the film was filled with a great blend of unique action and pertinent social commentary that made you think as often as it made you squirm. Needless to say, I was excited for Elysium, Blomkamp's newest sci-fi creation (and only second film total). Starring Matt Damon at his most ripped and badass, Elysium is still a solid ride, and it showcases two important points: Blomkamp is a director that is sure to please audiences for years to come, and the film--though never reaching the surprising heights of District 9--is a sometimes-corny-sometimes-exciting futuristic actioneer that does just enough to satiate the hunger of summer moviegoers looking for something a little bit different.
     Matt Damon is very good in Elysium, and he's really showing his range in 2013 (just take a look at HBO's Behind the Candelabra). Portraying Max, an ex-con factory worker living on a ravaged and derelict-ridden Earth, he holds the screen better than any action star. Sure, the film is set in the year 2154, seemingly very far into the future, but the more realistic visions of Elysium seem merely decades away. A dilapidated shithole, this future Los Angeles is desert-like and overpopulated, with criminals and a militarized robot police force controlling the streets. The human population feels almost hopeless (a particularly amusing scene with Max and his parole officer comes to mind). Almost, because of a glimmer not too far above the Earth's atmosphere.
     You see, the 1% ditched Earth for greener pastures, the Halo-esque space station called Elysium, with its luxurious McMansions, gorgeous eco-system, and fake-breasted bikini-clad women who sip martinis and speak in French. Particularly of note are most of the homes up on the planet-esque space station: most are equipped with Med-Pods, futuristic MRI machines that can cure any illness within a few seconds. Testicular cancer? Zap, it's gone. Broken bones? Poof, they are mended. There's one catch: you have to be a citizen of Elysium to use one of these machines--it reads a sort-of-barcode on users' wrists before they lay down on top of the slick white pad.
     This wouldn't be an exciting science fiction film, filled with powerful gun fights and connections with our own society if we didn't have a clash between the mega-rich of Elysium and the down-trodden earthlings living in complete squalor. In walks Max, who as a child (with his semi-girlfriend, Frey) dreamed of one day living in the peace of the outer colony. He eventually has a really bad day at work. Not like one of us, where if the coffee is warm instead of hot it can ruin a whole morning. Max accidentally gets caught in a chamber at the factory and takes a lethal dose of radiation. He is given five days to live by an emotionless robot. The owner of the factory, John Carlyle (who also has connections to the most powerful people on Elysium) couldn't care less. So Max only has one choice: hook up with Spider (Wagner Moura), a smuggler, and Julio (Diego Luna), a trusted friend, and steal a ride to Elysium to get to a med pod.
      But Getting up there isn't easy: Jodie Foster portrays the bitchy and dangerous Secretary Jessica Delacourt, who uses lethal force to prevent unauthorized access to Elysium and has some very important plans of her own. Max also is pretty weak since the workplace incident, so Spider hooks him up with a spider-esque Eco-skeleton that makes Max nearly as much machine as man. His old love interest, Frey (Alice Braga) also adds some tension to the proceedings--there's nothing like an action hero whose love interest is in peril. Her daughter having Leukemia poses a roadblock too. Can Max get up to Elysium to save himself? Or can he do even more than that, saving--dare I say?--the fate of planet Earth?
      Good set-up, but the action is hit-or-miss. Sharlto Copley is the most villainous character in the film, portraying Kruger, one of Secretary Delacourt's secret agents left on Earth. He sure does relish the opportunity, but most of his lines were kinda corny, the equivalent of consistently saying "Come at me, Bro!" every time he's near Damon's character. The action's filmed much less impressively than District 9, too. It constantly relies on slow-motion (tolerable) and occasionally delves into super quick-cut editing, the kind where you can't tell who is landing what punch within the confusing mish-mash (intolerable). Still: the charisma of Damon, Copley, and the cool gadgets that explode bodies into pink mist and chunks make it just satisfying enough.
      Damon does his best. He's very watchable. But Elysium can be a bit heavy-handed at times (I'm hesitant to use that term but it definitely fits here). The notions of the lack of health-care for many citizens and the constant battle between the 1%-99% are obviously relevant, but Elysium doesn't delve quite far enough to make those notions have any lasting impact. The ending--in particular--was pretty predictable and cheesy. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter: Near the end of summer movie season, we've seen so much garbage pass through the cinemas that any attempt at something pertinent and exciting is admirable--I just wish it had been a little more pertinent...and a little more exciting.     (B)

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