August 26, 2013

Guys Movie Night: Elysium

A brutal, relentless downer. The Third World/First World allegory is too broad and obvious to be satisfying, and the ending is a trite cop out.
The premise of the movie was well-outlined in the commercials and trailers; unfortunately, it takes about 10 minutes too long to establish the same information in the movie. "Okay, we know he gets irradiated and is forced to become a blue-collar hero; just get on with it already!"
Despite his performance as Will Hunting back in the 1990s, Matt Damon is unconvincing as a street rat gangster ex-con, reformed onto the straight-and-narrow.
The cars on Earth 2154 look very 2013, even upside-down.
The year is 2154. The 99% are scraping by in the smoking shell of civilization on Earth, while the 1% are living the clean and sparkly life on a really spiffy-looking Ringworld "Elysium" in orbit. This makes 2019 rainy Los Angeles in Blade Runner look like a paradise. Besides in-ground pools, cold cocktails, and well-manicured landscaping, the 1% also enjoy magical healing beds, which cure/repair any illness or injury in mere moments. I guess 140 years from now, not only can computers fix all human frailties, but they can do it quickly too!
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Damon's reward for his struggles is to get stuck in a giant microwave oven (plot hole #1). He's irradiated, and has 5 days to live before his insides turn to yogurt. Besides trying to save his own life - what he has to live for is a mystery to me- his character is given two convenient plot devices to live for:
  • Frey, an old girlfriend from his childhood: Alice Braga, who's already seen the world end in I Am Legend and Blindness;
  • Frey's daughter who has late-stage leukemia! Are you kidding? Could you make her more pathetic and sympathetic?
The corporate medi-robot gives him some pills, which apparently give you super-stamina (plot hole #2), because Damon spends the next few days testing the limits of human physical endurance, instead of, ya know, dying quickly in bed.
His old gangster boss wants to cyber-steal billions of dollars from a corporate weasel visiting Earth from orbit (Plot hole #3- this plan sounds impossible), so Damon volunteers for the suicide mission, so he can borrow a spaceship to visit one of those medi-beds (plot holes #4 & #5- there's no way Elysium would even allow a rogue ship to slip through their defenses, and there's no way they haven't solved the "forged ID" loophole to make the medi-beds work.)
Damon has a exo-skeleton bolted to his arms and torso, plus a USB port screwed into his skull. The exo-skeleton makes the patently impossible (a man dying of radiation poisoning in hand-to-hand combat) only extremely dubious instead.
The mission to steal the data and conquer Elysium is tied up with an unrelated coup d'etat plan between Elysium's Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster) and her primary defense contractor, Mr Raytheon (William Fichtner, Foster's old blind astronomer friend from Contact- Fichtner has seen dystopian futures before, in Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, and Strange Days).
If Damon were just another prole who stepped out of line, he'd be squashed like a bug by the scary police robots that punish every rule infraction with a (literal) iron fist, but because of this coup plot device (the device is literally in his head) Foster needs him alive and delivered to Elysium, so she enlists Kruger, her personal ruthless assassin on retainer. Sharlto Copley's Kruger is sadly one-dimensional and boring. Simply bloodthirsty and driven (and mean to Frey and her daughter too), I wonder if director Neill Blomkamp let his old buddy off the leash and allowed Copley too much scene-chewing latitude than ideal.
The gun battles are jaw-dropping (there's lovingly detailed slo-mo weapon fetishization throughout) and hand-to-hand combat simply too brutal to be enjoyable. I had to turn away from the screen a few times. It's an odd blend of ultra-warfare and class-warfare; both waged without subtlety.
I only went to see Elysium because I was eager to visit with friends. The movie delivered exactly as promised from its commercials, which left me with a touch of dystopian PTSD. My grade: C-plus.
Regal Fenway 13 with Marc and Jeff