Friday, August 9, 2013

Elysium Movie Review

Matt Damon stars in Elysium

The Haves and Have Nots of Elysium

One scene best epitomizes the differences between "us and them" in Neill Blomkamp's excellent sci-fi action film Elysium. It's when a doctor explains to his nurse, 'This isn't Elysium: We can't just heal her.' That her is the nurse's own daughter, who's dying of leukemia. Los Angeles health care in the year 2154 leaves plenty to be desired (think DC General back in the 80's, only worse.) Meanwhile, a 30-second stint in a fancy tanning bed on the space station Elysium would cure her entirely. Cue the debates: Let the class war begin!

Blomkamp takes on class warfare, health care and immigration in the ultimate 1 vs. 99% showdown, coaching one of Hollywood's most charismatic players (Matt Damon) to do battle across a dazzling field of death and destruction. Damon, as always, proves up to task... injecting just the right amount of humanity, cockiness and ass-kicking required of anyone, brave or dumb enough to try and save the world. It all works in perfect harmony with some of the best special effects since... District 9 (only with 3x the budget!)

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: In the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the planet's crime and poverty, and they critically need the state-of-the-art medical care available on Elysium - but some in Elysium will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve their citizens' luxurious lifestyle. The only man with the chance to bring equality to these worlds is Max (Matt Damon), an ordinary guy in desperate need to get to Elysium. With his life hanging in the balance, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission - one that pits him against Elysium's Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her hardline forces - but if he succeeds, he could save not only his own life, but millions of people on Earth as well.

What’s Best: Let's not anoint J.J. Abrams as the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg's unofficial title of "sci-fi guru" just yet. Sure, Abrams holds the edge in blockbusters, etc., but Blomkamp has shown a remarkable ability to innovate (and he's only 33.) It's not often that I feel transported into a story, but the world of Elysium is gritty, unforgiving and above all... realistic. Gone is any form of political correctness. The guys in charge make no apologies for their ruthlessness. In fact, most of the bad-guy work is done by robots; as in one of my favorite scenes, where Max visits his probation officer (a robot) who barks advice, 'Stop talking!' 'Would you like to talk to a human?' and after detecting a rise in Max's heartbeat, 'Would you like a pill?' It's the same feeling you get when calling a customer service hotline, only 140 years into the future.

Max's victim status is not easily accepted, but there's no denying its existence. When he's injured during a workplace accident, there's yet another robot to toss a bottle of pills at him, along with 'You've got five days to live. Thank you for your service.' All this sh*t adds up, believe you me; and when Damon's character gets a chance to do something about it... Oh boy!

Standing in his way is Elysium's heartless Secretary of Defense (played impeccably by Jodie Foster) and her "instrument of death" on Earth, Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley, in his best role to date.) Kruger skulks about a la Darth Maul, doing Delacourt's dirty work and even taking time off to do a little rooftop grilling (with a sword!) Kruger goes after Max with a vengeance, engaging in some ultra-cool fight scenes (laser shields, timer grenades... cool, cool, cool!) Topping that however, are the life-like robot soldiers who bounce around with cat-like reflexes (wait until you see Max blow one of 'em up!) On two occasions, I heard myself say "Wow!" A+ special effects.

(Note: This is my fourth paragraph for What's Best... Obviously, this is a great movie.) Even the side bar story involving Max's childhood love (played as an adult, by Alice Braga) avoids the trappings of sappiness. Braga's character is far from helpless, standing up to various challenges (none the least of which matches the knowledge that your kid is going to die) with realistic fervor. Did I just use the word fervor? Time to wrap this up. Elysium is awesome.

What’s Not: Elysium is less than 100 minutes long. All of its characters are refreshingly real and unrepentant (good and bad guys alike) and the action is fast-paced and glorious to look at. You want negatives? See something else.

Best Line: VIP John Carlyle (William Fichtner - one of my favorite actors) is downright evil, but you still have to laugh when he yells, 'Don't breathe on me!' to a shop foreman. I've heard of not wanting folks to look you in the eye, but breathing? Still, that doesn't hold a candle to the simple advice of Max's surgeon while providing post-op instructions regarding his new robotic arm, 'Don't jack off!' Thanks Doc.

Overall: I'm not easily impressed, especially when it comes to science fiction. The whole idea should be to create something new, something that makes you say "Wow." Obviously, Elysium fits that bill and then some. Breathtaking action, exploding heads and moments of levity (such as reprogramming an entire population by switching a single line of code from ILLEGAL to LEGAL) deliver all the goods. I haven't seen anything better, so far this year. Let's see Hollywood try and top this one.