Elysium

When I look at the ratio between a movie’s hype and disappointment this has been a bad summer.  It’s not that the films have been horrible but of a full slate of summer blockbusters only one, Iron Man 3, has lived up to expectations.  And the expectations for some of these projects like Pacific Rim and Man of Steel were sky high.  It’s left me feeling battered, cynical and well, old.

A bad summer can do that to you.

So my remaining hopes were pinned to Neill Blomkamp and Elysium.  This is strange because I didn’t particularly like District 9, his 2009 film which is now almost universally acclaimed as a masterpiece.  I called it an interesting failure.  But in the meantime, I’d read so many glowing reviews and casual mentions of the film’s genius the fact it didn’t do it for me had slipped my mind.  That opinion was recorded, however, and while I reserve the right to change my mind, or to even be wrong in my initial assessment, I think I stand behind this one and the fact that I could forget how it impacted me is evidence that I was right.

So the reason I was looking forward to Elysium is because it stands on the border between a disheartening blockbuster season and the next few barren months until Oscar season.  Late summer is when studios release the films they don’t think will make any money.

On to the film.  In 2154, Earth is a mess.  The bulk of humanity is poor and oppressed, living on the surface of the planet.  They are administered by a harsh dictatorship that uses robots to manage day to day details and security.  The rich elite live in Elysium, a space habitat that orbits the Earth.  They have every conceivable luxury, including med bays, appliances that will cure everything from a hangnail to cancer.

When surface dweller Max, played by Matt Damon, gets zapped by a large dose of radiation, and is told he has five days to live, he becomes desperate to get to Elysium.  Spider, played by Wagner Moura, an underground techie who tries to get people up to Elysium in unauthorized space ships, bolts an exo-skeleton to Max that not only bolsters his rapidly waning strength but also allows him to interface with computers and with other brains, which gives him the codes and passwords he needs to get up to Elysium.  Normally any unauthorized ship from the surface is shot down on the orders of Delacourt, played by Jodi Foster, the ambitious head of defense for Elysium.

Though it has its faults, I liked Elysium more than District 9.  Both are overtly political but Elysium is built more along the lines of a traditional action movie.  The main flaw is that the ending, which I won’t spoil, is a little too happy and tidy. 

Matt Damon, as Max, is likable as an ex-con who’s trying to play by the rules, even though he’s smart enough to see that the rules are designed to make sure that he and his kind can’t win.  You also see his vulnerability when he meets Frey, played by Alice Braga, the girl he grew up with and for whom he still carries a torch.

Jodie Foster is cool and crisp as the authoritarian heavy in this.  The role only calls for one note but she plays it convincingly.  The only thing I had a problem with is that she’s trying for some kind of accent and it didn’t really work.

Sharlto Copely plays Kruger, a brutal agent of Elysium who is deep undercover on the surface.  He bulks up for the role and can act sufficiently badass, but the problem with him as a villain is that he has a kind face.  They give him a beard and implanted circuit boards in his cheekbones but even then I probably wouldn’t have had any trouble asking him for directions.  Plus his accent was so thick I could only pick up maybe one word in three he was saying.

Elysium is a better than average action movie with worthy heroes and despicable villains.  It’s not the best movie of the summer but if you consider that hype to disappointment ratio, it’s probably near the top.  Alas it was not good enough to save this summer.

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