We Bought A Zoo


I love Matt Damon, and if you’ve read my reviews of any of his movies, I usually include that sentiment at some point.  Matt Damon and a big budget summertime action flick seemed like a cant-miss pairing, in my estimation.  That’s why it pains me to say that I was rather underwhelmed by Elysium, his latest film set against a bleak, post-apocalyptic Los Angeles landscape.  Jodie Foster (The Brave One) is also featured, and so quite naturally I thought her inclusion would bolster the movie.  Unfortunately, something about the movie just failed to connect with me, as a viewer.

In the year 2154, the world has been ruined by disease, over-population, and pollution.  Those who could afford it have long since moved to Elyisum, an artificial space station/planet of sorts where disease is a thing of the past.  Citizens of Elysium are afforded body scan technology that eliminates all traces of disease or injury.  The lawns are perfectly manicured, and the sky is always blue.  Picture an entire planet that resembles The Hamptons.  Meanwhile, everyone on Earth looks indigent.  Everyone has dirt under their fingernails, and resources are meager.  The nebulous “powers that be” have relegated humanity to menial low-paying jobs, and everyone appears to be “just getting by.”  Apparently there is no middle class in the future (some would argue that it’s a current myth as well), because you’re either poor on Earth or rich on Elysium.

Damon (We Bought A Zoo) stars as Max, a hard-working ex-con who is scraping by at a shit job just to make ends meet.  After being harassed and assaulted by the robot police on his way to work, he finds himself in the hospital where he runs into Frey (Alice Braga, I Am Legend), a childhood friend now working as a nurse.  Max and Frey lived in the same orphanage as children, and Max pledged his friendship to her while longing for Elysium.  After suffering a horrific accident at work later in the day, it is imperative that Max gets to Elysium so that he can be healed.

Illegal aliens who try to sneak into Elysium are met with force and immediate deportation.  Jodie Foster’s character is Secretary Delacourt, an Elysium government official who is tasked with immigration matters and overall policing.  She refuses to allow her pristine planet to be dirtied by filthy, sick immigrants who will zap her resources.  If Max wants to make it to Elysium, he will have to get through her and Kruger (Sharlto Copley, District 9), an assassin who was dispatched to Earth to ward off any potential illegals seeking to breach Elysium airspace.

Elysium featured an accomplished cast and a provocative storyline.  I don’t know why I felt disconnected from the movie, but I thought it was just ok.  I’ve heard that director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) originally considered Eminem (8 Mile) for the role of Max, and it would have been a much smaller film.  Oddly enough, that may have made it a better movie.   The hallmark of a ‘popcorn’ summer flick is special effects, but those bells and whistles did nothing for me this time.  I love Matt Damon and don’t fault his performance, but something about the movie was hollow, despite its earnest attempt to inspire sympathy within the viewer.  My compadre with whom I saw the movie shared my sentiment.  Grade: B-/C+

The Avengers

My mom reads my reviews, so I’ll censor myself a bit for this one.  Suffice it to say that the excitement I feel when I see a good movie trailer is akin to the adrenaline that coursed through the veins of the women who used to throw their panties on stage at Marvin Gaye et al.  When I saw The Avengers trailer, I didn’t throw my panties at the movie screen.  But I could have.  Oh yeah, I wanted to.

This is my favorite movie going time of the year.  The Oscar movies tend to come out some time in the fall, but it’s the summer (and early spring) that gives us the popcorn fare we love.  There was no question I’d be front and center for The Avengers, even if I couldn’t swing the midnight showing.  The excitement in my theater was nearly palpable, and we were all in for a treat.  If you’ve seen Iron Man, The Hulk, or Thor – you’ll at least be somewhat familiar with these Marvel mainstays.  The movie begins with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Meeting Evil), head of S.H.I.E.L.D., a covert government organization charged with protecting American interests on domestic and global levels.   It picks up where Thor left off, as Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth, The Cabin in the Woods) nefarious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, War Horse) has obtained the tesseract, an otherworldly energy source that can destroy the planet.  He wants to harness its power and bring humanity to its knees, enslaving the populace.  Fury knows that he can’t stop Loki on his own, after witnessing him take out an entire room of armed security forces.  His first call is to the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, We Bought a Zoo), a spy who is already in the fold.  The other members of the team will require varying degrees of persuasion.  Starks (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) is in.  Thor comes forward of his own volition to battle his brother and fellow Asgardian.  Captain America (Chris Evans, What’s Your Number?) is a soldier who is accustomed to taking orders and as such, requires the least prodding.  Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right) is the most reluctant of the bunch, as he’s spent the better part of a year trying to keep his cool.  Rounding out the group is Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, MI: 4), a recently rogue agent who was temporarily under Loki’s powerful spell.  Hawkeye and Black Widow are a tandem, bound by a shared mysterious past.  The movie highlights each hero’s skillset, and by the end they have accepted the values of teamwork and cooperation while forming an unbreakable bond.

The plot wasn’t terribly important, and it’s about what you’d expect: good guys unite to defeat the bad guy, whose wish list includes the subjugation of all mankind.  Some have an issue with the simplified plot, but I don’t.  I mean, it’s always a variation of the same theme.  I didn’t have a problem with the plot but I did have an issue with Loki’s reasoning that humanity’s natural desire is to be enslaved.  Quite the contrary, humans have an innate desire for freedom – so I thought writer Joss Wheedon could have tweaked that element a bit more.  It’s my only very minor criticism in a movie that was otherwise perfect.  What I enjoyed most about the movie was the interplay between each superhero.  Each character in his/her own right is capable of saving humanity, but it will take a concerted effort to defeat a foe as formidable as Loki, who has enlisted an entire interplanetary army to help him.  There was a natural chemistry among all the actors, and I can tell they genuinely had fun making this movie.

The Avengers succeeded where other superhero movies have failed.  Just because a movie is family-friendly does not mean that it has to be corny.  Spiderman 3 was horribly cheesy, and Superman Returns was equally bad, for similar reasons.  There has to be a middle ground between the darkness that Christopher Nolan brings to the Batman franchise and the corniness of those two aforementioned movies.  I believe The Avengers had the right balance of heft and fluff, if that makes sense.  It wasn’t all smiles and sunshine, as Black Widow has a shady past, Captain America is woefully out of touch, Thor is dealing with the worst form of sibling rivalry, Hawkeye needs redemption, and The Hulk is just trying not to spazz out.  The dialogue and interplay between characters was well worth the price of admission.  I think people should refrain from superlatives though.  This was not the best superhero movie ever made.  As long as Batman is still considered a superhero, that distinction remains with The Dark Knight.  That being said, The Avengers is a must-see summer blockbuster.  Grade: A+