Elysium - Review
I loved District 9. Really, it was one of the best films released that year, not to mention one of the only science-fiction films to not be based on an established mega-franchise or part of a reboot. As if that wasn't enough, it was Neil Blomkamp's first full-length film. If that's what the guy can do for his first movie, I thought, what's he going to be able to come up with next? Elysium was not what I had in mind.
As the film's trailer reveals, there's a space station called Elysium which houses the wealthy one percent, whilst the other ninety-nine live in slums on what remains of Earth. Already the subtext is a bit heavy-handed but once Blomkamp's starts unveiling the characters it gets even more overt. For starters, all of the films bad guys are little more than pantomime villains. Jodie Foster plays an evil rich person (really that's all we know), who also speaks in the most bizarre British accent, so much so that it becomes distracting. Likewise, Sharlto Copley, who plays mercenary Kruger, is so over the top that none of what he does can be taken seriously.
While they might be the worst culprits, the film's other characters don't fare much better. Matt Damon is...well...Matt Damon but he can act pretty well, there's just no material here for him to work with. The film's opening half is plagued by awkward pacing that meanders through a poor set-up which doesn't help us engage with his character, Max, at all. Wagner Moura, who plays Spider, a local smuggler, is possibly the film's most interesting character not least because of Moura's performance. However, even here the shallowness of the script means that there's not enough time given to fleshing out the character. Just as bad guys are rich and evil, the good guys are poor and good; no attempt is given to justify their motives at all.
Despite how bluntly Blomkamp handles the film's socio-political elements, they're also dropped from the film completely at around the halfway mark. To fill up the film's remaining runtime, we're treated to a barrage of action scenes that are full of unnecessary shaky-cam and incoherent noise. By far the worse aspect of the action sequences though, is the obsession with Matrix-style slow-motion whenever anything gets shot at. It turns most of the film's action scenes into video game kill-cams as we're left to watch the gradual destruction of a robot. It comes across as clichéd and amateurish, not to mention that it's completely unnecessary.
In fact, a lot of the movie feels like a video game story. The second half of the movie, gives up with even the perfunctory plot and simply jumps between action sequences. Likewise, the ending is unsatisfactory and doesn't make much of an attempt to bring any of the events of the film to a close. Without spoiling it, none of what is achieved by Damon's character is likely to have an major effect in the grand scheme of things, given what we learn throughout the movie. Could this be a set up for a sequel? Possibly, but the film doesn't give much hint towards that either, in contrast to how District 9 ended.
Despite how disappointing the film in terms of its direction and writing, it still does have a few interesting ideas. The best being the actual visuals, and I don't necessarily mean the special-effects, but the combination of utopian sci-fi with the messy bio-punk look that Blomkamp used in District 9. One of the film's best scenes sees Max out-fitted with what is essentially a robotic exoskeleton and is contrasted well with the clinical and clean way that people are treated for medical conditions on Elysium.
Elysium's biggest problem is that neither the film itself, or the ideas it attempts to explore, are fleshed out in anyway. It's stupid villains are mishandled despite the film having a talented cast at its disposal. The fact that the film comes from the guy who made District 9 just makes Elysium look even worse by comparison. Whatever Blomkamp turns his hand to next, let's just hope it ends up being better thought out than this attempt at combining science fiction with politics.
Elysium was released in UK theatres on August 21st.