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Monday, August 12, 2013

2 Brief Movie Reviews: The Wolverine and Elysium and a Prediction

Hey there Chaos fans! Old man Chaos is back with a 2 for the price of 1 deal- Mrs. Chaos and I have seen 2 movies in the past two weeks- The Wolverine and Elysium. One had a lot to live up to, while the other desperately needed to improve on its predecessor. Did these movies achieve their goals? Well, let's take a quick look...

Elysium: I really enjoyed the director's previous effort, District 9. In that movie, Blomkamp and company created a complete, realistic futuristic world with a strong moral message at its core, an allegory for racism. It was a movie in the best sci-fi tradition. Now, with Elysium, Blomkamp has a bigger budget and more credit/goodwill- so, would he live up to that previous effort?

For the most part, he does. First and foremost, Blomkamp is truly successful in creating a gritty, wasted, and despairing future earth. Overpopulated, running out of resources, suffering environmental damage, and diseases still uncured- future earth is a rough, poor place. Making matters worse, the richest people have fled Earth, building a huge space station / habitat, complete with clean technology, robot guards and servants, and medical technology that can cure just about anything. These rich elitists are totally out of touch with Earth's problems, and actively try to shut their eyes regarding the plight of the rest of humanity. Indeed, though the political aspects are murky in the movie, it appears that the government on Elysium exercises a great deal of control over Earth, with security robots acting as the police.

So, the movie is clearly an allegory for the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. Although this concept was skewered in The Dark Knight Rises (Bane talks about taking Gotham back for "the people" but he's full of shit), it has always been a theme- the poor masses versus the rich. Though I have no problem with rich people being rich, I have a problem when the rich or the elites lord it over others, when they abuse their wealth and power. This movie clearly speaks to that theme, and it does so quite well, for the most part.

The movie is gritty and rough, with cool action scenes, some moments of real tension, and some solid acting. Matt Damon is Max, a regular guy who dreams of being on Elysium (as most people do)- he was a criminal, but is now trying to make an honest living, hoping to save money to get to Elysium (which most people don't, naturally- carrot and stick style). One day while working in a factory, he gets poisoned by radiation, and will die. Max decides to work with his old criminal partners to get to Elysium and be cured by their advanced medical technology. He is NOT a hero, he is just trying to save himself. Matt Damon does a good job, solid as the everyman. His nemesis is Kruger, an assassin working for the Elysium government sent to kill Max- he is vicious, but also quite intelligent and has is own ambitions. Played by Sharlto Copley, Kruger is a monster- a hit man with no soul, and he is a great foil for Max.

I don't want to give the story away, because it is worth seeing. There's some explosive action, and some great twists and turns. For me, the problem comes in at the end. District 9's ending was quite ambiguous. Here, the ending is far too Hollywood happy ending for this gritty movie. Indeed, the central problem of rich versus poor seems to be solved by the end--- huh? Really? No way. It could never be solved so easily. It was a bit of a false note, and I felt that it weakened the rest of the movie.

So, Elysium was a fun action ride, with great special effects building a gritty futuristic Earth, good thrills and suspense, solid acting, and some interesting moral questions to consider. However, the ending is far too sweet and neat for me- and it weakens the allegory and grit that was built up earlier in the movie. So, I'll give it 3 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.

 The Wolverine: Let's face it- the previous solo Wolverine movie pretty much sucked ass. I am actually a defender of X-Men 3 (all the main characters face a test of choosing the lesser of 2 evils and the human "antagonists" are not bad at all- they think they can cure these poor mutants), but X-Men Origins: Wolverine was just awful. Awful. Bad. Horrendous. Hugh Jackman was solid as usual as Wolverine, but the rest was sad. A non-sense, forgettable plot, bad casting (Liev Shriber is good, but he is NOT Sabertooth), too many mutants, and it doesn't fit into the timeline at all (perhaps I should forget that as even the books chronology is a mess). So, The Wolverine had quite a job ahead of it- it had to make people forget the bad predecessor, while also making Wolverine grow as a character. The movie does both quite well, as it turns out. They do a few smart things:

First, they fully acknowledge the events of X3. Wolverine murdered Jean Grey, his true love. Though he undoubtedly saved many lives (the world?) by killing the out of control mutant, it has brought him no peace. He has withdrawn from the X-Men, and is living alone in the woods, pretty much like an animal, going into town only to buy beer.

Second, they get Wolverine out of his comfort zone. A Japanese woman appears, asking Logan to go to Japan and say his goodbyes to a Yashida, a man he saved in World War II (told though some great flashbacks). By taking Wolverine to Japan, they have removed him from his regular habitat, so to speak. Wolverine is now an outsider in several ways- he's ancient, he's a mutant, and now he's in a foreign land. This leads to some great little scenes- some humorous, some deadly for Wolverine.

Third, they wisely cut back on the number of mutants. It seemed that with each new movie, there were more and more mutants, leading the audience to wonder if there are indeed any normal humans left! Here, there's only 3 mutants! Several members of the Yashida family look at Wolverine as a "dirty mutant". I think it was very wise to cut down the mutants- it makes this more realistic and also gives weight to what the mutants can do to impact everyone else (humanity at large), rather than just mutants firing blasts at each other.

Fourth, the plot is a bit complex, but not confusing. The central plot has the wealthy and dying Yashida offering Wolverine a "gift"- he can remove Logan's healing factor, thus allowing him to live a normal life. Logan would no longer suffer the "curse" of immortality (losing loved ones, endlessly fighting, etc.). Wolverine refuses, though he is sorely tempted by the offer. Then, Yashida dies, and there is an assassination attempt on Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko. Wolverine takes it upon himself to protect her, but makes a startling discovery- his healing factor is not working as it should, and he is barely able to heal from wounds. Between this an the murder attempt, Wolverine is plunged into a mystery, and he must keep himself and Mariko one step ahead of ninjas, Yakuza, assassins, and the police (no one can be trusted).

Finally, The scale of the movie is perfect, in my opinion. There's a lot at stake, but it isn't a world crisis or something. There's plenty of action, and some desperate moments. However, as comic book movies seem to get bigger and the stakes and destruction increase, its nice to see this movie have a bit more personal approach. This allows them to build up Logan as a character, and he slowly begins to rebuild himself, finding redemption and a new understanding in his quest to save Mariko.

Overall, The Wolverine is really, really good. The only thing that I disliked about it was that the character Viper was so underdeveloped. She is one of the major adversaries and very central to the plot, but her motivation is quite murky. Tying her in more thematically might have helped (is she an "animal" like Wolverine? That kind of thing). As it is, this movie is a huge step up from the lows of Origins, and I hope, that with this, First Class, and the upcoming Days of Future Past, that the X-Men are going to just get better and better, regaining their former glory. I give this 3 and a half marks of Chaos.

So, I also promised a Prediction, and it is about Days of Future Past. In the past few weeks, we have seen images of Sentinels, past/future versions of some key mutants, and our first glimpse of Bolivar Trask. Many are speculating, so I'm going to offer my own prediction. As I did with The Dark Knight Returns based on their first 2 trailers, I will do now (in abbreviated form) for Days of Future Past:

With Bryan Singer directing, you can look at what he's done previously and get a shrewd idea. X-2 was his version of Wrath of Khan, right down to mind control, a doomsday device that was a perverted from a better device, and even the death (and end narration) from Jean Grey. Superman Returns, of course, was based on the Donner Superman movie. I mean, right down to Lex Luther's ultimate scheme. Based on these two movies, you can see that Singer has done riffs based on other movies.

So, what does that mean for Days of Future Past. I believe that it will be a riff of Terminator 1 and 2. Naturally, I don't have all the holes filled, but the promo stuff showed Sentinels guarding the Reagan swearing in ceremony in 1981. Something happened in the past, that caused the Sentinels (terminators) to be in place, and thus leading to a massive attack on mutant kind. I don't quite know how this will square up with X 1-3 and The Wolverine, but let's just continue on this.

With the Sentinels wrecking havoc on mutantkind, Prof X and Magneto decide to send Wolverine back in time to prevent an incident that would put the Sentinels in motion. Obviously this will have something to do with the younger versions of X and Magneto- thus you get the First Class cast (Wolverine is now basically Kyle Reese from Terminator 1 or Ah-Nold from Terminator 2). 

So, what incident will Wolvie have to help stop? Hmmmm... Let's look at Bolivar Trask here. Now, there MUST be a reason that Peter Dinklidge was cast- it certainly isn't that he's going to be a 2-dimmensional villain that creates sentinels. Indeed, I view him as Miles Dyson- the guy who would create the computer program Skynet, which would usher in humanity's destruction. In Terminator 2 Dyson is building Skynet without realizing what it would one day become. Once he does, he tries his best to destroy his work. I suspect that Trask will be similar here- Dinklidge will play a brilliant guy who wants to help humanity, and some incident will make him create Sentinels, even if he doesn't know how bad they will become. His casting is crucial- he will be sympathetic, not villainous, indeed- as a "small person", he may be able to relate to mutants, being genetically different- and that might be key in getting him to stop his work.

So, that is my Prediction- Days of Future Past will borrow a great deal from the first 2 Terminator movies. I could be wrong, but that's just what I'm thinking... so there.

Until next time...

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