[Film Review] Elysium

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Going into Elysium I tried to keep an open mind. The reviews went from 99% on Thursday down to %68 by the weekend and the reviews I had read something like this: great to watch but a bad story.

And, unfortunately, I agree with them.

Let’s step back and look briefly at Neill Blomkamp’s first movie that took us by storm: District 9. It was hailed as a great movie.

And rightfully so.

It was done on the cheap, made bank back and brought Sharlto Copley to the lime light. The story was original and the movie had a beginning, middle and an end. And let’s not forget about the throw down between the mech launching a pig at the private security forces guys.

Now we come to Elysium. In IMAX. Like Pacific Rim a movie that should be seen on the big screen. Because it is gorgeous looking movie when the camera stops jiggling. The art book is worth getting.

So long as you’re not blown out the back of theater by the Metallica Into the Never trailer that goes on forever. I turned to Matt G once the trailer was over and said: “The audience is now deaf.*” Followed shortly thereafter by: What did you say? I was having Driven flashbacks from 2001.

Elysium is a science fiction film written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. It chronicles an Earth in 2149 that has been over populated and where the rich live in rotating ringed space platform known as Elysium. They have food, families, land and sarcophagus that would make Ra from Stargate bush. Er, I mean they have a medical scanner that cures all ailments including getting a grenade to the face. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

We are introduced to the main characters like Elysium Security Czar Delacourt played by Jodi Foster enjoying a party when she is called away to deal with incoming shuttles filled with undocumented people trying to get to Elysium.

Delacourt calls up her left hand man, a contractor named Kruger played by Sharlto Copley to shoot them down. The good news is not everyone on her staff feels this is the right thing to do. But, Delacourt’s overrides them and Kruger is given the weapons he needs: a shoulder mounted rocket launcher fires a surface to space missiles at the ships.

Now, this is where your universe building skills should be screaming. Exactly why isn’t Elysium protected by Kruger in his own fancy spaceship?

Or a flotilla of ships or or or….you see where I’m going with this? Japan is currently better protected by their supposedly not aircraft carriers than Elysium is.

If this sounds familiar it’s the same argument about why doesn’t Prometheus defensive or offensive weapons. Not everyone is gonna be nice to you.

Sure, the United States doesn’t have a wall around it’s borders but it does have border patrols at least.

The hero of the story is orphan/re-formed criminal named Max De Costa played by a bald Matt Damon. I say hero because his upbringing with the nuns shoves the “you are special/you are the one/remember where you come from” dogma down our throats in an unnecessary flashbacks to his childhood. This is done so to introduce Frey played by Alice Braga. Unfortunately, Alice is the love interest/doctor/damsel in distress saddled with a child who is dying of leukemia.

Max has been keeping the straight and narrow working at an assembly line for the same robots that are used to keep people in line. At least until a series of events out of his control force him to rejoin his old gang and try to get to Elysium to save himself and sooner or later Frey’s dying child.

The characters themselves are painted with a wide brush. And this is where the story gets thin.

Delacourt isn’t given a speech or a scene to explain why she’s doing what she’s doing. The brief scene between herself and the President Patel, played by an underused Faran Tahir (No, it’s not his Regent role from Warehouse 13, honest. But it’s damn close.) And the brief scene is too short. It doesn’t even peel back a layer of her.

At least with the MMU in District 9 we knew what they wanted: Alien weapons to work. Sure, they’ve taken a page from the Alien franchise with the faceless company wanting the xenomorph for their R&D department but their actions speak loud enough where Delacourt is just going through the motions.

As for her accent being odd to understand I had more problems with Sharto’s accent at times than hers.

The designs in the movie was fun. It was gorgeous to look at. It was like a live action Wall E at times.

Unfortunately, when the action picks up so does the shaky cam and the smooth shots of District 9 go out the window and we’re back in Bourne Territory.

The fight scene in Skyfall against the neon of Singapore was outstanding since it was one take. Unfortunately, we’re not that lucky in Elysium there are several fights that are easy to follow and very well done. The car jacking attempt of Max’s ex-boss was well done until the shaky cam came back to ruin a great fight between Max and a robot.

The final scene between Max and Kruger was not cheerworthy because both are wearing the exo-suits that are featured so much on the posters. The exo-suits and the human modifications was a great idea. No one on Earth gawks at Max while he walks around in it. The suit works out fine until the fights gets up close and the characters start unnaturally blurring. This took me out of the movie.

The magic maguffin medical box is another problem of this movie. It’s too perfect. And every rich person has one. Everyone on Elysium is too happy for their own good. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t take the class struggle angle and tip it even more and say Elysium’s air contains mood altering drugs/toxins that would kill normal Earth person in minutes. Let’s be honest: the perfect society is never perfect without some adjustments. See Hugh Howie’s Wool series for more on that.

I explained the ending to my parents and my mother brought up a good point: So once everyone is free then what happens? Aren’t they just going to bleed Elysium dry?

Excellent point. This plot point of how the economy works is barely briefly touched on by Max’s boss, John Carlyle played by William Fichtner. He can’t stand being on Earth and reminds people to not breath on him. He runs the factory that makes the robots and shuttles back every day and like Delacort is going through the motions. It would have been nice to see him survive the movie to see the results. But alas it was not meant to be.

One last thing with the maguffin medical box: Remember what I said about grenade to the face? So that means someone could be saved even after mortally wounded. So that means the hero could be saved too, right? If this sounds like a plot point from Star Trek Into Darkness then you are correct. Why isn’t the hero saved?

This is where Elysium’s plot falls and fails to rise. At least with Wall E we have a believable ending and everyone rebuilds Earth. But Elysium ends before explaining what’s going to happen next.

I think the story would have worked better if Max and Frey were exiled from Elysium and worked their way back up to over throw the regime.

In closing, sophomore slump for Neill? Yep. Is it pretty to look at in IMAX Yep. Hollywood popcorn movie? Yep. Worth paying full price? No. Go see the early matinee.

Here’s hoping Edgar Wright’s The World’s End is better.

* – Credit where credit is due

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