Published on August 28th, 2013 | by Allan Brown5
Movie Review: Elysium (2013)
Running Time: 109 mins
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Plot: The year is 2154 and while the less fortunate dwell on a battered Earth, the rich and elite of society live on the dynastopian man-made space station named Elysium.
Neil Blomkamp follows up his runaway apartheid hit District 9, with another sc-fi action drama with social injustice at its core. This is only the second feature from the South African director but does Elysium reach the heights or evoke the depth of ideas that its predecessor so effortlessly did?
The year is 2154 and while the Earth lies in waste, existing only as one vast mega-slum, its people labour hard in nuclear factories fabricating materials under the watchful presence of law enforcing robots. This way of life runs parallel with the wealthy whose fate is directly linked to their bank account. These members of society reside in the dystopian sanctuary of Elysium – a state of the art space station that resembles an artificial planet which is governed by a team of bureaucrats including, President Patel (Faran Tahir) and his Secretary of Defence, Delacourt (Jodie Foster).
The film centres around Max, a factory worker on earth who enters a fight against time after an incident at work leaves him with a fatal condition that can only be cured on Elysium. With only days to live, Max now desperate, becomes embroiled in a mission far beyond what he had imagined, or had planned for.
And so the post mortem begins.
Let me first say, Elysium on the surface is a beautiful looking film, like District 9 before it Neil Blomkamp shows an expertise and restraint when it comes to handling SFX, unifying state of the art CGI while retaining a gritty and grounded realism that quite simply blends into the real landscape seamlessly. A perfect example of how it should be done.
Blomkamp again uses the science fiction medium to present and highlight the burning issues of economic inequality in the world today. The film kick starts with certain gusto, setting up the situation both on Earth and on Elysium, quickly drawing the audience into the issues at hand. The premise although simple presents some interesting analogies that mirror the medical care system some countries still adopt today. However, as soon as the main narrative grinds into gear and the action starts, these more interesting ideas quickly fade in to the background in favour of more and more (not so great) action sequences, while the bigger more interesting ideas we were teased with at the beginning are quickly dealt with as if irrelevant.
Much like the posed ideas in the first act, Elysium -the planet, also falls victim to never receiving the screen time it deserves. And there arrives another problem. We as an audience are never given the chance to create a fair view of both worlds, nor do we get to see or meet any of its population outside of its shady government. Instead we are presented with a list of characters that are shallow of any depth or characterisation. Character complexities or subtly are duly thrown to one side, here we are presented with the simple formula Elysium = ‘Bad Guys’ were Earth = ‘Good Guys’ and again, despite a few loose teases here and there of character complexities; they are never followed up or pursued for long enough to become relevant.
Our cast of characters are also a mixed bag. Matt Damon performs ok as Max, but is never given anything he can really sink his teeth into. Sharlto Copley as Kruger is fun to watch, although at times risks slipping into the role of pantomime baddie and as for Jodie Fosters character Delacourt, well, I refuse to believe she even turned up for the role.
As previously mentioned Elysium’s main issues lie within the writing. The story and its characters are devoid of any depth and as the film progresses, (it is as though the director has only just become aware of it) the use of contrived emotional events such as the recurrent flashback sequence that attempts to establish a relationship between Frey and Max (Alice Braga and Matt Damon) in a last ditch effort to implement some emotional weight, comes off feeling nothing more than tacked-on and artificial. When you have to use flashback to the beginning in a final act to show character motivation instead of allowing a more natural thread run throughout the story you know there are problems. Most of these scenes are slapped on to the end like an afterthought and subsequently have little effect.
So with that said Elysium leaves its blockbuster action sequences to paste of the cracks in the narrative and carry the film through all of its short-comings. But are they enough to carry a film for a full 109mins?
In-short, both yes and no.
The prolonged static shots of Elysium itself are visually stunning and conjure a feeling of nostalgia, reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001 a space odyssey. And that goes for the whole design of the film from its wardrobe departments all the way through to prop and CGI design, which is quite simply first rate. Each scene it beautifully captured through cinematographer Trent Opaloch’s lens which is testament to one of the few areas the film raises the bar. Where this falls apart is in the relentless fight sequences between Max (Matt Damon) and Kruger (Sharlto Copley) that are nothing short of a flurry of chaotic shots that have been captured using handheld cameras before being edited into quick-cut shots that have been pasted into an incomprehensible sequence that will leave its audience confused and disorientated as to what has just happened. This type of sequence arrangement is often implemented to mask poor and unconvincing choreography or badly shot action. The aim was clearly to shoot these scenes in a similar vain to the Bourne films, sadly Blomkamp didn’t come close. Not since Taken 2 have a seen fight sequences so confused and poorly realised.
Summary: Blomkamp tries his hand at another social commentary lead film with Elysium and while the film retains a visual prowess throughout, it sadly never capitalises on its promising first 15 mins. Instead it slowly diverts its attention down the weak action blockbuster route, where characters and story offer less life than their cardboard standee representations.