Elysium Review

22 08 2013

matt damon poster

Everyone has that one family member who loves to jump into any interesting conversation and steer it towards their view on what’s wrong with the world. For a while everyone humors him/her, but after a while it becomes grating, and soon everyone is checking their watches and realizing why nobody eats dinner together anymore. Elysium is that family member. We start out with a promising premise (the earth is trashed, the privileged flee to orbiting space station to keep their posh lifestyle), throw in some capable stars (Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner) and then use it as a one-note platform to advance…whatever it is this movie is trying to tell us.

Photo from Halo 5.

Some writer’s been playing Halo.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what this movie is trying to convey. The Rich in this movie are pretty much all jerks- as in, every single one in Elysium would shoot a puppy if it meant money would fall out. So, are we saying there are only the poor and the rich and no middle class in the USA? The Earth we are shown is comprised almost exclusively of Hispanics who want to get to Elysium, even if it means paying for dangerous shuttles. Okay, that’s easy- immigration, right? So, is director Blomkamp saying countries shouldn’t have borders? Or is this about healthcare, since Elysium has miracle machines that heal everything but a bad attitude? The problem is everything is so hyperbolic it’s over-simplified so much it loses any practicality. Elysium has strengths, but subtlety isn’t one of them.

jodie foster

Hates poor babies.

Look, I’m fine with a movie to have its own worldview- it’s natural. But (much like this review) the actual plot and characters seem to get left behind in favor of The Very Serious Message. That’s my main hangup with this movie- it could have been fun. I was promised Matt Damon in a mech suit, fighting robots, then flying to Halo- in that order. Instead, we have an overbearing script that keeps pulling us aside to remind us how Very Serious this all is, just in case we’re starting to enjoy ourselves (maybe I’m just upset there was a total of one robot fight). This doesn’t matter to everyone, but there are also a few very gory sections, most notably one facial injury that makes the Dark Knight’s Two-Face look like Pretty Pretty Pony.

Max and Kruger

We needed more of this.

The effects are great (in the case of the violence, almost too good), and the acting is generally Very Serious but effective. Sharlto Copley as Kruger stands out in particular as a complicated psycho you wouldn’t want to cross. Again, the sci-fi elements are creative, but underused. It’s not a bad movie- I just personally didn’t enjoy it. The first thing I did after the movie was to try to remember one joke- not a particular joke, just any joke. Maybe it was the endless seriousness or violence or overblown social commentary, but I was unable to conjure up one memory of comic relief. Heck, even Les Miserables had funny parts/lines/characters. Instead, the film turned into a fairly straightforward story, with a mood as drab and serious as its post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.

This would have been made me laugh.

This would have livened things up a bit.

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The Wolverine Review

2 08 2013

The_Wolverine_Japanese_film_poster_painting

Ever thought about how terrible it would be to have self-healing powers so powerful you could be invincible and ageless? Wolverine thinks it is. At least he can always vent his frustration out with his six giant retractable claws, but honestly, when you start outliving everybody and picking up more and more baggage, would you look for a way out? The Wolverine explores this curse/blessing of immortality, obsession and regret, and cultural differences all at the same time (but not in that order), which is weightier material than his previous few outings. Could an X-Men movie be getting philosophical on us? Throw in ninjas and gangs, and you’ve got a few reasons to check this out. Did I mention almost everything happens in Japan? Because it totally does, and it’s epic.

 

the wolverine funeral scene

Back in black.

 

Regardless if you enjoyed Wolverine: X-men Origins, there is no questioning The Wolverine tells a better story than its predecessor. Part of the reason (besides the above premise) is the dramatically reduced number of mutants in this film, so that they feel more fleshed out, instead of side shows (with one exception). Rila Fukushima in particular makes a great impression as Yukio (and not just because of the red hair). Her mutant powers (foresight, combat skills?) are more toned down than previous shape-shifting, flying mutants, but she and non-mutant Mariko (Tao Okamoto) perfectly complement the rash, lone-wolf nature of Logan (Hugh Jackman. Duh).

 

the wolverine mutant

Pictured: not a mutant.

 

Not so great for me are the villains- Silver Samurai was a cool-looking CGI monstrosity, but the twist with who’s pulling the strings was fairly predictable after several giant hints. For me, the final CGI giant form almost felt out of place compared to the rest of the movie’s action scenes. By the way, isn’t adamantium supposed to be super rare? How could they find all that for a gargantuan robot suit? This pales next to the villainess Viper. Her snake-like powers were actually a departure from comic books, as she wasn’t even a mutant in the comics (thanks, Wikipedia!). I really don’t care about comic continuity, but everything about the character felt like it should have been in either the first Wolverine movie or the cartoony brawls of The Last Stand. Her dialogue was flat and a little cheesy, and did every outfit really have to look over-the-top reptilian? We get it, she’s like a snake! Did we run out of subtlety? In my mind, she was the weakest character.

 

viper poster

Strong poster. Weak character.

 

The third act felt different in tone from the first two. While the first two focused on more setting and characters, the final part went full comic book action. I’m not complaining, it’s just an observation (heck, ninjas vs. Wolverine was the reason I came anyway). For me, whether fanboys hated it or not, my favorite X-Men fight was in Wolverine: X-Men Origins with Sabretooth and Deadpool, because watching Wolverine fight a teleporting, dual sword-wielding, self-healing martial arts master with laser-shooting eyeballs is thoroughly awesome. As it should be. This ending was still satisfying, just not the highlight.

 

I thought adamantium was super rare?

Giant robot suit. Six little claws.

 

To sum up, this movie was no Dark Knight for me (but will anything be?), but it successfully shows us why Hugh Jackman’s character deserves to keep making movies. We finally get a deep look into his psyche and what drives him, and setting him in a dramatically different setting was a great choice. Everything about him stands in contrast to the traditions and style of the Japanese world, and this creates interesting situations and themes. Maybe most noteworthy is how different this feels from the other movies in the franchise, almost feeling like a standalone while still being a pseudo-sequel. Even with a few muddy spots, sometimes it’s good to try new things and get some fresh air.

 

Hugh jackman humor

Truth.