This is the last of my Facebook movie reviews. Anything after this will be premiered here, I guess. I’m sure this will one day be considered an event in future blog historians, who might be writing a dissertation in all things Sponaugle.
This is a long review. I apologize in advance.
Movie Review of ELYSIUM by Pat Sponaugle (this guy)
Recently, my wife and I managed to see Elysium, written and directed by Neil Blomkamp, the District 9 guy.
I really enjoyed District 9. In fact, I think I’ve only met one person who didn’t, and his reasoning behind why he didn’t like it was, in my opinion, full of asshattedness. If that is a word.
But, I’m here to talk about Elysium (although, as is my way, I’ll be talking about a lot of stuff too.)
NON SPOILER REVIEW AND/OR RECOMMENDATION
You haven’t seen Elysium yet? It’s that one with the trailer that shows a bald Matt Damon in a dusty slum, getting harassed by blocky robots or shooting up stuff while wearing a bunch of metal tubing. And the sharp angles of Jodie Fosters’ face contrasts with the curves of a very realistic space station. That one.
It’s not bad. It’s not great like District 9 was, but it’s worth watching. I recommend it.
What’s good? Why isn’t it great? (I didn’t say it was good, I said it was ‘not bad’, but it’s an incredible visual experience.)
Well, the movie looks great. It looks very realistic. My spoiler-review will go into more detail, but the visual design of the movie is amazing.
The acting is pretty solid. The story is mostly solid (the acting is probably better than the story, just saying…)
My biggest complaint of the movie is this: the action sequences are a bit too chaotic for my enjoyment. It wasn’t necessarily vomit cam, but it was shaky cam. And close in cam. And no context on what I am seeing cam.
I heard three reviews from friends whose opinion I respect before I saw the movie.
– One liked it, thought it was good, not great. Predictable. Shaky action. (I kind of covered that above.)
– One liked it, liked the ending especially (no spoilers yet…), but had a hard time understanding what was being said by some characters. It’s a fair criticism. In reality, just two of the actors are hard to understand, although the context of what they are saying is fairly clear. I’ll get more into that a bit later.
– One was really disappointed. She agreed it was a good movie, but she wanted more, and for that she largely blamed reviewers who had lauded the movie as amazing science fiction. Her definition of science fiction is more in line with old school literary science fiction, where the society and the effects of technology are the focus. I’m not saying that this is absent in the movie, but the emphasis is probably more on action. This isn’t Moon. This isn’t Blade Runner. It’s a summer action movie. But it’s smarter than the usual summer action movie.
So, how do I rate Elysium on a scale of 1 to 10? I give it a thumbs up. BOOM! Reviewing Trope Subverted!
And now, Spoilers and completely random discussions that might tie tangentially to the movie in question.
I SAID SPOILERS!!!!!!!!
Boy, Starship Troopers sucked as a movie. I largely mention that now because last week I saw RiffTrax perform live during a Fathom event broadcast (if that is the right word… simulcast?) of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. (I’d never call that movie *Robert Heinlein’s* Starship Troopers.) I’d be up for Neil Blomkamp remaking Starship Troopers. He should get on it right away. Or even better: the superior guys-in-battlesuits-versus-aliens-story: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.
Neil, you should make Forever War. Your Taurans would be pretty sweet.
So, I’m going to spoil the heck out of the movie. Straight up. Don’t read this if you want to see the movie with your innocence intact (or if that’s long gone, your ignorance intact, but I mean ignorance in a nice way in this context. You’re still here?)
If you want to skip my recap, because it’s going to be a LONG recap, you are welcome to jump ahead to the THOUGHTS SECTION.
THIS IS THE RECAP SECTION. IF YOU WANT TO SKIP DOWN TO THE “THOUGHTS SECTION” I UNDERSTAND. YOU ROCK, EITHER WAY.
Roughly 150 years in the future, Earth is depleted and polluted and unpleasant and overcrowded. In orbit is a space habitat housing the very rich. It looks huge. It can easily be seen from Earth, by day, so it’s pretty big. And it’s populated by the extremely rich and robotic servitors that cater to their needs. I’m not sure where the food comes from, but we see amazing technology, so for all I know it’s manufactured from raw materials. The technology available to the very rich is pretty impressive. Medical bays are in every household that are quite miraculous. We don’t really see the rich doing very much. There’s poolside partying, and some barbecquing, and so on. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot to do on Elysium. So, we have the idle rich.
On Earth, it’s extremely crappy and unaesthetic. We mostly only see Matt Damon’s Los Angeles, which looks like a super slum. It’s interesting to imagine how the ground-bound population can exist. Where does the food come from? Who maintains the power, and the water? Other than people working in a hospital or in an armaments/droid manufacturing plant, there’s very little sense of work or industry that isn’t black market or illegal. We don’t get a lot of evidence of how things are working, but that’s okay. We see that people are eking out an existence. It’s very substandard and unpleasant though. But the good news is, people are served by droids. Well perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, droids are on the surface as a policing force, and they appear to have modeled their behavior from the Los Angeles police force in the 60s. So, brutal.
We don’t know how conditions are in other parts of the world, but the assumption is that things are probably crappy all over.
But not in Elysium. Elysium hangs in the sky, beautiful and remote. But people are willing to risk their lives to illegally emigrate there. If only for a chance at one thing. Medical treatment.
In the movie, an underworld entrepreneur with access to orbital vehicles (where does he get them?) is happy to take a family’s hard-saved cash for a ticket on a risky flight up to Elysium. This isn’t like a family trying to reach Florida from Cuba where they might be granted asylum and start a new life. On Elysium, there is only room for citizens and their robot servants.
Anyone making it to the habitat will be rounded up and deported. But while they are on Elysium, it’s a race to get to a medical bay and have whatever condition that someone has fixed. It’s risky. Shuttles are destroyed on route. Casualties among the illegal immigrants is not unknown. (In the movie, we see 2 out of 3 shuttles destroyed, and a third of those who hit the ground running die when rounded up.)
Let me address this for a moment. Jodie Foster, who appears in the movie icy and ethereal, is the Defense Secretary of the habitat. (I forget the actual title, but you get the gist.) She overreaches her authority to order the destruction of incoming shuttles, filled with desperate immigrants. It’s an interesting decision, since it seems like such a malicious waste. You would imagine that once the shuttles were close to Elysium, habitat shuttles would deploy and shadow them down, where the very efficient droids would round them up. Instead, the policy on Elysium is to just broadcast a “hey, stay away” message. Foster arranged for an Earth-bound agent named Kruger to launch missiles at the shuttles, but a shuttle that avoided the missiles made a landing which met with very little opposition.
So, she was right to take extreme action in one sense, in that there was a total crap response to the illegal shuttles otherwise. So, they really need to up their security procedures. And… just saying… maybe address some of these issues that are causing people to make this extreme risky launch into space. The underworld black market guys selling tickets to space are making a bundle on desperate people. It just seems like a bad deal. Even for the people who make it to Elysium. Who then get deported back. With nothing, since they spent it all to get up to the habitat. Maybe with a cure. Maybe not.
Okay, so Matt Damon is a factory worker named Max. He has a criminal past. He’s on parole. He can’t help but wise crack harassing robots into breaking his arm and/or extending his parole. There’s a woman he knows who he grew up with, Frey. He’s hoping to get close to her. And, thanks to his factory job, he gets dosed with lethal radiation, and has five days to live. Not a good deal for him, but a great motivator for story purposes. Because he’ll do anything.
He ends up, with the assistance of his friend and shady accomplice Julio, being brought before Spider, the local shady underworld figure who seems to be the man to talk to for shuttles up to Elysium. (Again, just where does he get his shuttles? Two of his were destroyed and the third probably impounded. And where does he get his pilots?)
Spider is willing to assist Max, but only if Max helps him basically steal info from someone’s brain.
Okay, let me step aside for a moment. Before I saw the movie, I heard some chatter from people that more or less went like this:
I already saw Elysium. It was called The Cloud Minders in season three of Star Trek.
(If I have to specify it was Original Series Trek, I’ll be forced to slap you. Fear you not the weight of my strong right hand?)
I don’t want to be super aggressive and call these people small minded, or idiots. So I won’t even though by implication I just did.
Elysium has about much in common with The Cloud Minders as Dune does to Star Wars. (In that Dune and Star Wars both had a desert planet and an Empire. Okay?) Yes, you can find things in common, but it’s not nearly the same.
At this point, Elysium has a lot more in common with William Gibson than Gene Roddenberry.
This is pretty much a solid Burning Chrome style event. A corporate bigwig with valuable data stored in his wetware is going to get hijacked. The data is going to be extracted and stored into a similar brain chip. The hijackers will be armed. The target will have droids, so the hijackers will have one guy in a painful-looking exoskeleton.
Since surgery is involved for the wetware chip and the exoskeleton, Max, who needs to earn a favor from Spider, gets elected.
The target is the totalitarian bigwig in charge of Max’s factory, and as fortune would have it, has made a deal with Jodie Foster (her name is Delacourt, but I like calling her by her name.) He’ll use his mad skills to craft an I Win button for her, and she’ll give him a huge long term contract for guns and robots.
To be specific, he has in his head a software routine that will reboot Elysium. And the reboot can be made to grant supreme executive powers to Foster. Go with me on this, this does make sense. The suit has the software in his head super-protected with fatal countermeasures. It’s important to know this.
So, John Carlyle (the bigwig, yo) is heading up to Elysium after doing usual corporate stuff that had to be done in person on Earth. Like, I don’t know, whatever. Anyway, Carlyle and his two droids hop into his car. I mean, his shuttle, and take off.
Both the droids and his shuttle are amazing looking. Sure, his droids look like the ones on Elysium and the droids on Earth rousting people, but all of the droids look great. They look real, they look functional, they look military, they look distinctly useful. All blocky while still being fluid.
His shuttle is like a smooth, rounded dream. I want one. I don’t care if it can’t really fly. It was amazingly beautiful, and in contrast to the droids, which looked no nonsense, his shuttle looked excessively engineered to be practical but also elegant. I’m not a car guy, and I don’t get excited by things like 67 Mustangs or whatever. But seeing this vehicle, I felt I almost understood.
This is something I wouldn’t mind washing and waxing on a lazy weekend afternoon.
Okay, this is weird, so I’ll move on.
Before Carlyle’s craft gets far, it gets shot down, there’s a firefight, and with a wounded Carlyle holding onto life, his data starts getting synced with Max’s chip.
Okay, time to take a step back a moment.
Before the brain-data heist, Max agrees to Spider’s plan to have an exoskeleton rig attached to him, and have a brain-chip implanted to facilitate the data extraction. This requires surgery, and the surgeon on hand is a scary, tattooed dude. Who also goes along on the heist to prep the computers for the data transfer. And to be one of the gunman. So this guy is some kind of post-societal Renaissance Man.
Whoa, forget Max. *This* guy is an action movie hero. Doctor, hacker, combat specialist. He’s like Team Mission Impossible all rolled into one. Where did this guy get his education in this polluted, overcrowded, resource-depleted world? In fact, who is maintaining all of Spider’s computers? Where did they get their training?
(The doctor, Sandro, is played by Jose Pablo Cantillo, who we know as Martinez on The Walking Dead. Boo Martinez!)
The brain-chip is an interesting plot point. In classic cyberpunk tales, knowledge and skills were easily available via brain implants, so that would be an explanation. Just something that struck me. Back to the plot.
Okay, when Carlyle’s shuttle is forced down, Jodie Foster quickly acts to protect her investment. After all, Carlyle is carrying CoupDEtat.java version 1.0 in his head, and she wants to be the one to run that on Elysium (so she can, you know, run Elysium.) Earlier in the movie, when there were illegal shuttles approaching, Foster had them dealt with by an Earthbound agent named Kruger, played by a dirty and ragged looking Sharlto Copley (who I felt was great in District 9.)
Foster was reprimanded for her aggressive reaction to the shuttles, so she fired Kruger as penance, but has to rehire him to scramble in a bid to rescue Carlyle. Kruger is a bit cranky, but is happy enough when reunited with two other agents flying a pretty amazing combat vehicle.
The corporate mercenaries arrive too late to stop the data heist. Carlyle is dying, and the data has been transferred to Max’s head. It’s discovered at this time that the data being grabbed is protected with Norton Deathworks, or Macafee Brain Killer. I’ll talk a bit more about this later.
Everyone on Team Spider dies but Max, who is stabbed and escapes.
Elysium turns Los Angeles into a no-fly zone, Kruger deploys some aerial surveillance, and Max tries to stay alive.
The woman who he’s interested in is a nurse, so he coincidentally runs into her leaving work. Now, it’s possible that this is not that coincidental, since he knew she got off work on Wednesday at 8 (they were going to have coffee) so it’s possible that it’s Wednesday, and it’s 8. Except that’s a coincidence too, but lets not dwell on that.
Frey, the nurse, is played by Alice Braga, and she’s good in the role. I mean, it’s not a super meaty role, but she’s very likable. Watching the movie, I had this feeling that I had seen her before. And I had this feeling that it was a movie that I didn’t like all that much. And I had a feeling that she played someone who during that movie had said just the dumbest thing.
Since I’m clinically OCD when it comes to seeing a familiar face in a movie and going mad until I figure out where I’ve seen them, IMDB came to my rescue, and had confirmed my feeling. She had been in a movie, a movie that I didn’t like that much, and she had said the dumbest thing ever. She’d been in I Am Legend (the Will Smith adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel.)
Those of you who read my seminal World War Z epic movie review will recall that I talked somewhat on I Am Legend, so I won’t repeat my rant here.
I will say that the really dumb thing Alice Braga said in I Am Legend was this: she referred to the post-humanity infected ghouls that had inherited Earth thanks to a mutation infection as “Dark Seekers” instead of calling the ghouls, zombies, vampires, CHUDs, mutants, freaks, goons, monsters, creeps, scary-ass muthaf**kers, or WHATEVER. Calling them Dark Seekers just pissed me off as dumb writing.
Okay, Frey patches Max up. Max discovers that Frey has a daughter he didn’t know about, who has leukemia. Leukemia is one of those conditions that is completely solvable on Elysium. Frey asks Max to help her get her daughter to the habitat to be healed.
Max knows that the software in his head is so valuable, that it’s only a matter of time before he’s found and killed. He needs to deliver to Spider, and his presence with Frey will put them to risk. So he bails and bolts.
Frey and her daughter get picked up by Team Kruger, to be used as possible leverage against Max. I’m not sure I bought that, Kruger apparently had amazing instincts in evaluating Frey’s value as a hostage. But it’s a hostage situation that he doesn’t try to take advantage of later, so that kind of weakens it. Really, he takes her so their presence can drive the plot later, and you know, that’s not super awesome.
Max hooks up with Spider, who can’t extract the software from Max’s head. But he sort of can. I mean, he manages to put it up on a display, and there’s the big scary countermeasure screen that comes up with the THIS WILL FRY HOST’S BRAIN, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO CONTINUE Y/N message. But the code is visible as well, and Spider (who is an incredibly quick study) surmises that the code’s purpose is to reboot Elysium.
Max, realizing his head is super valuable, exoskeleton punches a few guys to get out of Spider’s place (to be fair, Spider was not necessarily trying to keep him captive, but some of his goons were just a bit hot-headed.) Max, uses one of Kruger’s drones to signal him, he gets picked up but Max is holding an unpinned grenade to stay in control of the situation. He’s willing to hand over the data after being medically healed.
Frey and her daughter on the military shuttle would make it less likely that he’d drop the grenade, but Kruger and his men pretty much leave Max alone for the flight up. Right before landing, when they make their move and try to subdue him/get control of the grenade.
In a way, this seems crazy, but Kruger and his men have surmised the function of the code in Max’s head too. If they turn him over, they get paid, but if they make use of him, and reboot Elysium, they can become kings. These guys are pretty awful. That’s not what we movie-goers want.
The fight and subsequent grenade detonation is impressive, leading to an even more impressive shuttle crash landing, digging through the beautiful lawns of Elysium. Frey tries to get her daughter healed by breaking in to the local mansion, but the medbay won’t recognize her daughter’s DNA as that of a citizen, and refuses. Frey gets tasered, Max gets tasered.
Kruger is injured in the grenade explosion, but while Elysium personnel are dealing with Max, Frey, and her child Matilda, Kruger’s mercs fix him up. In time to be yelled at by Jodie Foster. Foster is having Max prepped for brain-data retrieval (and therefore brain death) and Frey and Matilda scheduled for deportation. But there’s always time to yell at a brutal mercenary who has insurgency on his mind. And had recently had his face blown off and is having Lazarus Pit Mania.
Kruger stabs Jodie Foster in the neck with some broken glass, throws her dying into a locked room with Frey and Matilda, and begins armoring up to take over Elysium.
I wasn’t surprised that this happened, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting it. The ad campaign had kind of propped the movie up as a Damon/Foster head to head, but it’s really more of a Damon/Copley conflict.
I’ll pause a moment to point out how this is the tragic downfall of Jodie Foster’s character. She decided she needed a coup because the President (of Elysium? of Earth?) just wasn’t hardcore enough and things would be better if she was in charge. (Or she just wanted to be in charge, no argument here.) So she orchestrated the creation of the magic software that will make it happen, but it’s about to fall into the hands of the man who just killed her.
Back to the story.
Besides Max, Frey, and Matilda, Spider has shuttled up with heavily armed allies to try and catch up with Max. Spider has his own plans. As usual, Elysium airspace security is non existent (although to be fair, Kruger and his men have been grenading everyone in Homeland defense and helping themselves to stuff in the armory.)
Max has exoskeletoned his way out of his retraints, and frees Frey and Matilda. He orders them to find a medical bay, and he promises he’ll arrange things so Matilda can use the devices to be cured. (I neglected to mention that Matilda, unlike most illegals seeking aid via Spider, does not have a counterfeit citizenship marker. As it is, the medical couches will not engage for her.)
Max eliminates Kruger’s allies, and with Spider and Spider’s men, are trying to locate a terminal where he can reboot Elysium. Kruger, now exoskeleton’d as well, has other plans.
What follows is a pretty dramatic and chaotic fight scene. I can’t even recap it because I am just not sure what happened. But Kruger ends up exploding. Yes!
Max gets hooked up, gets a chance to talk to Frey on their future-phone, (ok, it’s a walkie talkie or something similar, Spider’s and Spider’s man who is helping Frey.) Max agrees to brain death so Frey’s daughter can live.
Spider reboots Elysium with new codes to recognize *everyone* as a citizen.
The President, played by Faran Tahir (seen in Iron Man and the JJ Abrams Star Trek) rushes in with standard ninja-masked security goons to detain Spider, who is delightfully confrontational. Security droids assist, but they assist Spider, who is now a citizen.
Medical alert systems recognize that there is a vast population of people on the planet in need of medical assistance, and in I ROBOT fashion, medical shuttles filled with portable medical couches and medic droids deploy.
Okay, now that the recap is finally over, I’ll state some thoughts as a wrap up. First off, if you read all that crap above, I love you. Seriously.
And I apologize for all the comma splices and dangling participles and all that other stuff that proves that English isn’t my first language.
This may be another long section (oh hooray I hear you say) so I’ll try to preface each major thought with a header so you can skip over stuff like WHAT I HAD FOR LUNCH or SEND ME MONEY or whatever.
I just wanted to repeat that I’d be in favor of Neil Blomkamp remaking Starship Troopers. Because the Paul Verhoeven one was pretty bad. So what does this have to do with Elysium? Not much, but I’m happy for the challenge.
Elysium: Spider, the underworld figure, wants to hijack John Carlyle and extract information from his brain.
Starship Troopers: There are huge spiders that live underground, and want to extract a brain from Denise Richards. GOOD LUCK!
E: Matt Damon wears an exoskeleton that gives him super strength, and wields some pretty impressive weaponry. This allows him to defeat in spectacular fashion a cool security droid that otherwise could have ripped him apart.
ST: The Mobile Infantry grunts *should* be wearing awesome battlesuits that give them super strength. The MI grunts *should* be packing amazing weaponry, which would allow them to stand up to hordes of armored and heavily armed alien bugs. (And skinny aliens too.) Instead, the soldiers are unarmored, packing rather mundane conventional weaponry (albeit with a magical amount of ammunition. Maybe they were firing BBs.) And bugs rip them apart like Cersei ripping royal wills.
And where Max can dispatch a security droid with a few explosive airbursting rounds, it takes, maybe, a bazillion bullets, from multiple MI weapons, to kill ONE BUG. It’s a good thing that in their wisdom, the ST Military command recognized that one bug was the equivalent to 10 soldiers. So a tremendous number of well trained military were deployed to Klendathu, the Bug homeworld. Where there were maybe a few dozen bugs, n’est-ce-pas. What? You mean, there were literally Billions of bugs? My word. Who knew.
So, if only Spider had been available to consult for the invasion of Big K, things might have been different.
I’ll just throw out there that both movies featured a majority population without full citizenship rights, ruled by a minority of voting citizens. Of course, the people of the Starship Trooper’s universe had the option of military service to have citizenship a guarantee, and Elysium apparently had no obvious pathway to citizenship. Possibly with enough money, it could be purchased?
Remind me to talk about an offensive clownshoe on Facebook who was suggesting citizenship based on an IQ test. That’s a fail. And I mean it.
The reboot program that Carlyle wrote for Jodie Foster’s coup d’etat was somewhat of a mystery. We’ll skip over the weirdness that it was in Max’s head, protected by terminal countermeasures but Spider could display it on his various displays.
By the way, either Spider is the world’s greatest computer programmer, or Carlyle was the MVP of software documenters, because Spider just glanced at the code and knew 1) exactly what it was intended for, and 2) exactly what he needed to do to take advantage of it and grant blanket citizenship to everyone on Earth. Now, this is the kind of thing that people who deal with computers for a living, particularly on the software crafting end, really notice in movies. It’s just the way it is. Because it’d make for a really boring movie if things weren’t this way. So, I totally give the movie a pass on this. It’s cool. I don’t mind. I’d be an asshat to harp on it. But it’s fun to at least point it out.
But the point of this topic is try to imagine what the reboot program really does. Is it that impressive that the computer control systems shut down and rebooted? Well, probably. I mean, for all I know the rank and file citizens of Elysium have to interact with automated systems on Elysium all the time, and the reboot could strip that all away. But more importantly, the legions of droids were affected.
When President Patel and the human security forces apprehended Spider, the accompanying security droids intervened on Spider’s behalf, refusing to arrest him. There was an implication that the droids would have intervened to prevent violence against Spider because of his newfound citizenship. Otherwise one of the ninjas with Patel would have clubbed Spider and they’d kick him off the station. (Possibly via usual deportation measures, possibly via the airlock.)
So, with this implied no-harm and no allowing to come to harm aspect (I’m totally extrapolating the usual Asimovian laws here, I acknowledge that) I’m curious how this plays out on Earth. I suppose the police droids that had harassed Max previously would be better behaved among all the new citizens.
But things on Earth are a real mess. The robots are mobilizing medical efforts, but there’s a ton of stuff to get in on. So while the benefits of magical medical technology are being made available, the idea of an Asimov societal revolution fueled by robots serving all humanity is a bigger deal.
But, is it also going to end up being a situation where humanity ends up pets of caretaker robots? In some ways, the rich of Elysium were already well cared for pets, since they didn’t seem to have anything else going on.
Max’s job at the beginning of the movie appeared to be in a droid fabrication plant. It was certainly a plant creating elements for Elysium’s defense, since Carlyle was in negotiation with Foster for a defense contracts. So, why all the robots? Or whatever? It couldn’t all be for the defense of the space habitat. I’m interested in what other conflicts were going on planetside. Was there another aggressive habitat in an antipodal position? Just wondering. Of course, they might have just been creating police security droids for planetside, largely.
Look, I want to talk about my favorite movie from 2012 (I might have liked other movies more in 2012, but for purposes of this discussion, DREDD is my pick.)
Dredd, starring Karl Urban as the eponymous helmeted justiciar and Olivia Thirlby as my favorite 2000 AD (that’s a British comic book, you) psychic was a great movie. And I don’t know why I consider Dredd great, and Elysium just good. Maybe I had less expectation, or maybe I was just impressed with the artistry of Dredd’s action over the shaky hard to decipher action of Elysium. Look, just go see Dredd, okay. You’re welcome.
But I’m not really trying to debate which is better, I want to explain why I feel that Elysium and Dredd, if not actually the same universe, might as well be.
Both movies are founded on the idea of a desperate future of crowded squalor, with a dissatisfied population and an impersonal and efficient group of overseers keeping the people in check. For their own good.
The sprawl and expanse of Elysium’s Los Angeles was very similar in aspect to Dredd’s Mega City One, with a combination of slums surrounding megalithic buildings. I’m not saying Elysium is ripping off Dredd, I think sprawling future landscapes are going to just appear similar. But what I like to do is imagine Elysium taking place in the Dredd universe. The security droids harassing Max might as well have been overzealous judges.
For the record, Judge Dredd would kick the ass of a horde of Paul Verhoeven Bugs. No question. And the judges would have dealt with the Bugs on Klendathu a billion times more efficiently and smartly.
SO, WHAT DID THAT GUY SAY?
I mentioned that one of the people I got a review from told me that Sharlto Copley’s accent made it very hard to understand him.
This person is old and crotchety (I can say these things since he’s unlikely to be reading this. BOOM) but so am I, apparently.
Kruger could be understood most of the time. He did have an odd accent. (So did Foster, but it was more odd in a just-what-the-hell-accent-is that way.) But there were times when Kruger might have been speaking Afrikaans and not English. Maybe he was. I couldn’t tell. I usually got the context, so that was okay.
There was one time, that Kruger was perfectly clear. Kruger and his men have invaded Frey’s home. They are interrogating her, she’s cradling a sobbing Matilda. Kruger wants to know where Max is, Frey states she doesn’t know.
I’m now going to paraphrase what Kruger said (because I’m going from memory, I’m not censoring.)
Kruger: I’m not comfortable committing acts of extreme violence in the sight of children. Cover your girl’s eyes.
(I apologize for the upcoming expletive)
Holy fuck that was a chilling scene. And he was perfectly, perfectly understandable.
He wasn’t the only one I had a hard time grokking. Spider (played by Wagner Moura) has a lot of exposition in the movie. He explains the data heist. He explains the import of the data in Max’s head. He’s an instrumentally informational character. I only got about half of what he was saying, because Spider is a very excitable guy, and Spider is a fast fast talker.
My ears are old. I couldn’t keep up. Again, I got the gist.
My final example isn’t an actor. It’s some robots.
When Max is harassed at the beginning of the movie, the two security droids giving him a hard time have voice synthesizers (yes, I know they are not real droids, that it’s actor’s with electronically altered voices, but go with this.)
They are real hard to understand. I have a yen to go back and watch Star Wars, and see if I understand the Stormtroopers. Maybe it’s me.
THERE CAN BE NO UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE HAND AND THE BRAIN UNLESS THE HEART ACTS AS MEDIATOR
What the hell am I talking about? I’m talking about METROPOLIS. Because why should I stop talking about other science fiction movies?
There’s some similarities between Elysium and Metropolis. (Yes, I’ve already bagged on people comparing Elysium and Star Trek’s Cloud Minders, but once I get an idea, I have to run with it.)
Both deal with a society that has two classes of people, haves and have nots. In Metropolis, there is a great city that is supported by workers who live more or less in desperate toil and squalor, and the city planners who basically get to party and wear tuxes. Eventually a villain plans on eliminating the troublesome workers by drowning them like rats, and replacing the workers with robots. (Sexy robots. Admit it, the Maria robot was hot. What? ANYWAY…)
Sure, it’s not a one to one, but I think we can hit on the similarities. But I want to talk about one thing that’s missing, which might explain why I find District 9 great, but Elysium good. (And Dredd great.)
We’re missing the heart. In Metropolis, the core of the story revolves around the son of the city mastermind falling in love with a girl from the lower class. Until that point, he (like most of the elite) had little concept of the problems of the workers who supported the city. Their relationship is the heart that mediates between the brain and the hand. (I can’t take credit for that, it’s from Metropolis.)
But, in Elysium, we have no moment where one of the elites is shown becoming aware, or sympathetic to the problems of the non-citizens who live in misery. There is an allusion to the perspective of the inhabitants of Elysium though.
In the beginning of the movie, young Max (Neil Blomkamp totally went back in time and filmed a young Matt Damon, that kid really looked like Damon…) is talking to his guardian (Max is in an orphanage) who understands his longing to go up to Elysium. It’s beautiful, hanging in the sky. But she tells young Max that as beautiful as Elysium is, as seen from Earth, those on Elysium see Earth in its beauty. She gives Max a locket with a photo of Earth from orbit. And it is beautiful.
Earth from orbit is perhaps one of the most amazing sights anyone can see. So I imagine that this is the perspective of those on the habitat. That they don’t actually “get” what’s happening on Earth. They might be informed, or aware, or blissfully unaware. But if their primary experience is staring at Earth from Elysium, they won’t understand, like the planner’s son in Metropolis.
When the shuttles land on Elysium and when Frey twice attempts to use a medical bay for Matilda, there is no one in the mansions that are being trespassed into for medical treatment. So we miss any opportunity for someone of the elite to react to sick children being carried by desperate mothers.
I had a debate with one of my co-workers about this, but I would have preferred Matilda not being treated for her leukemia based on Max’s sacrifice. Oh, I am still invested in his sacrifice, and in the blanket citizenship rollout, but I think it would have been a pleasant surprise if when Frey and Matilda entered a mansion for the medical bay while Max was fighting Kruger, that one of the elites would act like a human and be willing to override the medical bay to cure the child. To be the heart.
Sure, Max can be the heart for loving Frey and dying for Matilda, but it’s not a heart mediating between the gulf of classes and society.
I’m not sure if it would have been effective, but Elysium is missing something, and maybe that would have done it for me.
District 9 had a lot of heart, with the tremendous sympathy generated for a freaking walking lobster-alien.
Dredd the movie had a lot of heart in the form of Psi-Judge Anderson (I make no demands for Dredd to show heart, I prefer Dredd implacable and mostly humorless.)
And that’s why those movies are great.
I’M ALMOST DONE. BUT I WANT TO TALK CASTING
There were a lot of people in this movie that I’ve seen before. Carlyle has a weasely face that shows up occasionally. I remember him from commercials for Invasion on TV years ago. I’ve already mentioned Alice Braga and Sharlto Copley that, who I have only seen each in one other movie, and Martinez from Walking Dead as the chop-shop doctor/hacker/armsman.
I liked them all, I liked Moura as Spider, and Diego Luna as Julio, Max’s car-stealing friend. I was so happy with these actors, I began to wish Matt Damon had not been in the movie. I was okay with Jodie Foster, her role is actually kind of minor. I didn’t mind Damon as Max, but I just found his star power (I guess that’s the right term) a bit too overpowering? I had a hard time accepting him as Max in a movie with actors who were relatively unknown to me. A lesser known actor would have really synced for me.
Okay, I’m out of steam. I welcome comments or discussions, but I’m just happy people have liked my previous bloated and pretentious movie reviews. Thumbs up to you all.