Elysium Review


Elysium is the latest film by acclaimed director Neill Blomkamp and it delivers a spectacular and richly detailed world that is startlingly realistic. But does Elysium measure up to the stunning success of his previous film, the shockingly original and politically adept District 9? Not quite, but even still Elysium is a sci-fi epic worth seeing, even if it is more for the incredible action than for the rich political commentary.

Elysium is billed as a utopian society, which means it must be innately flawed, right? Right.

The title Elysium references a space-station that the wealthy created when Earth became over-populated and polluted. In this floating fortress the rich have no fear of disease or aging because of breakthrough machines that eradicate disease or physical trauma with a few simple button presses. On Earth, the rest of the population live in utter destitution, forced to man the factories that churn out the machines that keep them subjugated. While these poor masses may desire to go to Elysium to cure their various abnormalities, there is a strict code that forbids access to any that are not “citizens of Elysium” aka billionaires and their families. So naturally the plot centers around the character Max (played by Matt Damon), who must break into Elysium for medical aid. He is prevented from doing so by Secretary Rhodes and Agent Kruger (played by Jodie Foster and Carlto Copley respectively). While the former is a pretty strait-forward, if diabolical, politician, the latter is a truly sadistic and incredibly compelling sleeper agent who is tasked with bringing down Max. Max is outfitted in a type of exo-skeleton super-suit; think the suit from Aliens except shrunken down to the size of a man and you get the basic idea. The fights between Kruger and Max are some of the best I have seen this summer, and while they may be over quickly Blomkamp’s use of sharp camera angles and tracking shots keep the fights in focus while amping up the intensity. Blomkamp really flexes his muscle when it comes to smart use for special effects and fight choreography, because each frame is beautifully constructed from a fast paced hand to hand duel to a robot being shattered from a explosive round piece-by-piece. Jaw-dropping stuff.

See that large gun? It makes things go boom, boom real good.

But while these fights and the effects throughout are incredible, I go to a Blomkamp film expecting a complex and original narrative with political acumen. Blomkamp certainly is trying to maintain his reputation for tackling political issues; his engagement in the 99 percent debate is worn on his film’s proverbial sleeve, but the film lacks the moral complexities that made District 9 such a standout. This is a pretty black and white world where the rich are the bad guys and the poor are misunderstood victims. While Copley (who also starred in District 9) turns in another stellar performance that adds some much needed complexities to this otherwise predictable drama, Matt Damon is unable to create the morally ambiguous anti-hero that Blomkamp seems to want him to be. Perhaps it is just because Damon is too darn likeable, but I never bought into the idea that he was the tatted-up, selfish badass that he was made out to be. Because of this, there was never a question to how this film was going to turn out. Unlike District 9, where I loathed and questioned Copley’s protagonist until the very end, I was never invested in Matt’s character in the same way. This is not to say I didn’t care about Max or the fate of this depressingly realistic society, but the film suffered from a level of predictability that was unexpected in a Blomkamp sci-fi epic.

Copley dominates as the sadistic and unpredictable Krugar. Oh and his weapon of choice is a katana, doesn’t get much more badass than that.

But still it must be said that a Blomkamp’s film still is superb and miles above most sci-fi’s like Oblivion or After Earth. What Blomkamp does is effortlessly create a rich, living world that is completely believable. If anything, I felt that the film was a bit short, and I would have liked to see more glimpses into how this world was run on a day-to-day basis before everything went crazy. Because of Blomkamp’s incredibly detailed worldbuilding and the awesome action I am giving Elysium a solid B.

So, what did you think? Did you see the film or want to see it? How do you think it compares with Blomkamp’s previous work? What about the political and social elements, was he too obvious or did he spark some interesting ideas about the class divides in society? Let me know what you think in the comments below..


Guacamelee! Gold Edition Review


What do you get when you combine metroidvania gameplay with luchadors? The answer is obviously Guacamelee, one of the most original and compulsively entertaining indie IPs I have come across recently. Guacamelee was originally released on PSN (the Playstation Network Store for those of you alergic to all things Sony) but was recently ported to the PC on Steam this past week. Gracias al Senor for that because it would be a tragedy to miss out on this luchador’s adventure.

Juan goes for agave to a-great-A! So many puns! 

Guacamelee follows the travails of the lone aguave farmer Juan Aguacate, who dreams of becoming a successful luchador wrestler so that he can impress the presidente’s daughter (who ironically has no other name). His plans are foiled when the king of the dead, a skeleton king named Calaca, kidnaps Juan’s love interest and kills Juan in the process. No worries though, because upon arriving in the land of the dead, Juan quickly is revived when he puts on a magical luchador mask which allows him to (eventually) flip between both dimensions (the living and the dead). So ya, the plot is utterly ridiculous, but Drinkbox Studios knows this and has a ton of fun along the way with a series of utterly ridiculous (and sometimes flat) gags and an absolute metric ton of hidden references to other video games of both the past and present. One standout is a particular sidequest which puts you on the hunt for a missing boy who likes to dress in green and hunt for monsters with his magical master sword. This is just one of a couple dozen references hidden throughout the world.

Remind you of anything? There are references to other games scattered throughout just as awesome.

But the real highlight of Guacamelee is its game systems. This is a true metroid-vania game, complete with rewarding backtracking, new powers, hidden secret, leader-boards for fastest completion times etc. etc. It is almost like Guacamelee had a list of the features required for a solid entry into this popular genre and tried to fit each and every one in. Whatever they did, it payed off, because I had a blast hunting for hidden power-ups while fighting off the skeleton army of luchadors and other sombrero wearing minions. The fighting system Guacamelee employs is a pretty straightforward 2D beat-em-up that emphasizes grappling to keep the numerous enemies at bay. Combine this lucha libre style melee combat with an ever-growing arsenal of special attacks, and pros will soon be picking up combos in the couple hundred. The combat is consistently challenging but always fair, with only one or two of the boss fights being a little disappointing in this area (in particular the 1st phase of the last boss, who is pretty cheap until you learn all his moves). There is nothing particularly ground-breaking here, but it is all executed with such mastery that I didn’t miss the innovation. What Drinkbox really innovates on is the exceptionally unique and charming setting. The art design here is top notch, really exploring this bright Mexican landscape which has never really been the basis of such a quality game before. I will say that I missed the lack of voice-acting, particularly because the dialogue lost some of the sarcastic charm and irony that it was relying on simply being a pop-up.

Sometimes the dialogue tries a little too hard (although it might have been more successful with voice actors). Still, who doesn’t like a few cat-tostrophic puns!

Before I drop my final verdict I want to quickly touch on the “Gold Edition” title that was appended to this PC release. The “Gold Edition” denotes the inclusion of some DLC and the ability to create and upload new costumes through Steam Workshop. The DLC, from what I can tell, is a series of challenge rooms that can be tackled to wrack up gold medals. There doesn’t seem to be leaderboards though with these rooms, which means that the added content could probably be completed in an hour or two. To put the length in perspective, you are talking about 6 hours for a decent completion of the game (I probably had about 70 percent of the items) and another couple hours for the DLC. But there is also a New Game+ mode that unlocks upon completion along with leaderboards for speed runs on both modes with or without 100% completion. Add in Steam Trading cards, achievements, the aforementioned costume editor, all for around 15 dollars, and that is a serious steal in my book.

That is why I am giving Guacamelee! Gold Edition a solid A-.
If you are looking for an utterly entertaining and irrepressibly charming metroid-vania game with a sense-of-style all its own, you can’t do better that putting on the luchador mask and joining Juan in his epic journey.

So what do you think? Are you going to put on the luchador mask? If you’ve played the game, do you agree with my review? Can you make a by-the-book metroid-vania with a funky new style and get away with it? I think so, but I would love to hear what you think so write to me on the comments below.