Friday, 31 January 2014

Elysium (2013)

What starts out as quite a grounded realistic take on the future quickly descents into the kind of action flick you'd half expect to see Arnie in about 20 years ago. In fact this film reminded me very much of the Verhoeven ultra violent sci-fi 'Total Recall' with its themes on class levels, the rich and the poor and of course the hyper levels of violence.

The distopian plot is pretty simple really despite the films initial intelligent appearance. Matt Damon is a grunt on Earth doing hard labour for peanuts, Earth is now a polluted ruined disaster zone. Up above orbiting Earth is the space station Elysium where all the wealthy folk live, they enjoy a perfect existence with health care, clean air and luxury. Through negligence on his bosses part Damon gets a massive dose of radiation and has five days live. So now the clock is ticking and Damon must get his ass to Mars...errr Elysium so he can treat himself.

There are many good and bad elements in this film and straight away that is a bad one. The technology in this film goes from a really impressive realism with all the robot workers, military and police, to downright insanity with the medical care. The rich have these pod-like machines that will basically cure you of ANYTHING! absolutely anything can be fixed. This really does sound too good to be true even for a sci-fi film, its gets so ludicrous that even when the films bad guy gets his face blow off these wonder machines still manage to patch him back together bringing him back to life with clear memories of what happened before he was 'killed'. No recuperation required folks, good as new.

As said the robots in the film look amazing, very realistic and practical if you ask me, you could almost manufacture them right now!. I did love the visuals in the film from start to finish, its really glossy where it needs to be. The space station Elysium looks like the big space wheel from '2001' but the immense detail of its interior when we see flybys from spacecrafts is breathtaking, it really looks good. Most of the ships you see aren't overly original in design but again they all look functional, realistic and very cool, the bad guys ship is a very sweet looking bounty hunter ride, eat your heart out Boba Fett!. On the flip side Earth looks perfectly grimy, bleak and desolated, we've seen it all before but it still looks good.

I did enjoy the themes throughout this film, again hardly original stuff with the old class rivalry between the rich and the poor. Interesting to see an American film tackle immigration in such a stark way, especially when everyone on Earth appears to be Latino/Spanish speaking folk (minorities) and they are all made out to be ruthless, dirty, tattooed, gun toting scavengers who aren't able to hold onto civilised society without white folk. Many also don't appear to be able to do anything constructive accept criminal activities...until Damon (a white guy) comes along and saves them all. Oh and is Damon the only white guy left in this region? or Earth? well him and his nasty boss. Anywho life is cheap on Earth and the rich see it as expendable, no surprises there then.

Then of course you have the hot topic of healthcare (for the Yanks) and the fact that it appears to be free and easy (I think it was, everyone has one of those pod things). Its the perfect utopia with no scruffy ethnic minority immigrants clogging up the system. Most of the people on Elysium appeared to be white with blonde hair...those damn blondes, the mark of evil I tell ya!. Basically all the white people were bad, accept Damon, everyone else was good and repressed...not too many messages in this film huh. Oh and the really bad guys were white South Africans!! that's like...doubly bad!.

Nice touch that Damon and all the other grunts earn peanuts slaving away in factories making the very robots that make their lives a living hell with a lot of stern bureaucracy and tough laws. Still not original but it works.

So I enjoyed this film a lot right up until the point where the bad guy merc turns into some kind of comicbook super villain right out of a W.S. Anderson flick. Seriously I half expected Jovovich to pop up and fight him. Now I can't deny this guy was a good baddie but my God was he over the top, I mean they really tried to make this guy some kind of iconic badass. Head to toe in an admittedly cool looking military suit and looking very Halo-ish, lots of big hidden knives and guns all over the place, some kind of energy shield from the Star Wars universe and to top it all just in case he wasn't quite ultra cool enough...a samurai sword strapped to his back. Yeah this guy was meant to be the ultimate villain alright, I don't think they could possibly give him anymore weaponry if they tried, seriously tooled up.

But despite this uber visual coolness on display the film just went downhill so fast towards the end. Such a predictable mess of action movie cliches. Damon gets his exoskeleton suits early on but doesn't really do too much, they save it for the inevitable fight between him and this uber badass South African bad guy (yep he was really South African folks and his name is 'Kruger' *groan*). Two badasses wearing exoskeleton suits giving them super strength, speed, power etc...must fight to the death in yet another 'Matrix-esque/Underworld-esque' battle, gee I wonder who wins after all that wire work.

Don't get me wrong the action is top rate and extremely brutal at times. The gun battles we see are terrific and pretty realistic looking even though its futuristic gear. It all looks very much like certain popular FPS videogames to me at times, not a complaint I assure you as its really thrilling to watch, especially on Bluray. The entire film is super slick and a treat for the eyes to be sure, sound too, a very polished action film.

Highly thrilling ride from Earth into orbit that's for sure but its just a shame its a film of two halves. On one hand it seems like it could of been a very decent intelligent (if somewhat questionable) science fiction story based on life in the year 2154. but there's a clear line in the sand which the film crosses and it goes in a completely different direction, it turns into Arnie fodder. So I find myself torn liking both halves but knowing they don't really blend too well together in my opinion. Plus it does get way too stupid towards the end and the actual ending its self is soooooo corny it was embarrassing.

With some heavy themes this does feel a lot like a modern 'Robocop' but it doesn't have that dark satirical angle. More like controversial stereotyping and strong propaganda softened with sonictacular turbo violence for the masses. Definitely makes you think on various levels which is good and you do get bang for your buck which is also good. A very jumbled film but solid certainly.