Craig's First Take: "Elysium"
on 2013-08-05 14:33
I don’t want to be overly dramatic here but..Neill Blomkamp may have saved the Blockbuster this summer. After a month of watching mega-budget action movies metaphorically shoot themselves in the face on screen (and at the domestic box office apparently), the “District 9” director comes in without 3-D, a super hero, a triple-digit budget, or a Christopher Nolan “grand idea” and still nails it.
Anchored terrifically by Matt Damon, who with this and “Behind the Candelabra” shows again how versatile he is, he plays a bald-headed former car-thief living on what’s left of Earth, which is now polluted, diseased, and populated only by those too poor to catch the next flight to the floating paradise in the sky, Elysium. (Its view from space is the film’s most striking image) Trying to go straight, Max works the line at a factory as a menial worker with employers who could care less about him. He is exposed to radiation, given 5 days to live, and dumped by the company.
Unlike Earth, which is now made up entirely of garbage, smoke stacks, hungry kids begging for money, and hand-me-down robots patrolling everywhere, Elysium has the best of everything including medical care. Rogue ships from Earth try to achieve sanctuary there but they are either dealt with lethally or deported back by the Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster), an iron-fisted bureaucrat who like most iron-fisted bureaucrats employs others to do her dirty work.
That would be Kruger (Sharlto Copley, Blomkamp’s version of a muse), a sleeper agent embedded on Earth who’s also a horrible psychopath. Copley is undeniably effective here, a vicious savage to make your skin crawl. When Max and some underworld types hatch a plan to kidnap a business man (William Fichtner), Max’s former boss, in order to trade his info for a free ride to Elysium, they, along with Max’s childhood friend (Alice Braga) and her sick daughter become Kruger’s targets.
This is not the freshest of sci-fi, we’ve seen this bleak futuristic world before, nor does it go any deeper than to make parallels to healthcare, immigration, and the one-percenters but it’s a survival story and one that continues to draw tension from what’s at stake even after the action sequences end, which is more than I can say for many of the other “blockbusters” this summer. The characters are also rootable, identifiable, and at times, gut-wrenching.
“Elysium” is also one of the summer’s best looking films. The tech is interesting, like an ear-piece that can hold “brain data” or maybe the most uncomfortable tracking device/body armor ever, one that needs to be nailed on to Max’s spine and brain stem. And the action set-pieces (shoot-outs, exploding bodies, plane crashes) combine for what feels like a fast-paced wave of entertainment.
By the end of “Elysium” I kept getting this feeling I’d hadn’t gotten in a while, that rousing, joyous feeling of not having to spend an entire movie just holding my head up (or getting that uncomfortable crick in my neck afterwards). My chiropractor can finally take it easy on this one, “Elysium” is bonafide entertainment.