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Late Summer Catch-up: ‘Elysium’ (Neill Blomkamp, 2013)/’Kick-Ass 2’ (Jeff Wadlow, 2013)

Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 was an electric debut; schooling larger productions on efficient spending whilst dropping genre tropes into a believable, politically mature landscape. I look back on it fondly as the anti-Avatar, providing all the thrills and excitement of Cameron’s film but with a sturdy backbone of iron supporting its vicious, satirical core.

So far as Elysium is concerned, Avatar again crops up as an interesting reference point, not only as a benchmark for the relative failings of both pictures, but an indicator of shared qualities. Blomkamp and Cameron both excel at bold, conceptually exciting design work, both fall short in complementing their spectacular world building skills with engaging, muscular storytelling. Though it makes for an entertaining watch, Elysium’s rich vs poor social commentary, certainly stacked against District 9, feels a little glib and undemanding, taking me back to the inelegance of that eco-message drilled into my brain during the seven hours of Avatar. I don’t think it’s trite, and Blomkamp can hardly be guilty of grabbing the lazy coin when he’s so fully immersed himself in another modestly budgeted, wholly original production, but the lingering feeling remains that a little Verhoevenesque black comedy and another run around the shooting script would’ve turned a merely decent film into a very good one.

I can’t deny having minuscule expectations for Kick-Ass 2. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the first film, but the prospect of an unwanted follow-up a couple of years too late provided about the same (lack of) appeal as further forays into almost any comicbook universe in this agonisingly oversaturated marketplace. Throw in a poor marketing campaign, new creative team and generally downbeat buzz from the critical community, and expectations were not so much low as non-existent. To my surprise, this was not just okay, but actually a pretty respectable stab at expanding the Kick-Ass world beyond the cheap thrills and throwaway genre deconstruction of Matthew Vaughn’s film. Jeff Wadlow’s greatest triumph is in finding a tonal consistency with Vaughn’s work, effortlessly catching up with the characters and tidily replicating the style and irreverence of that film. I’m not convinced there’s much mileage in the franchise, and Wadlow can hardly be credited with being a great original, but to damn with faint praise – when expectations are rock bottom, a few funny setpieces and a decent violence quota are a reasonable return on my £11.50.

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