Elysium

Elysium photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgNeill Blomkamp’s directorial feature debut was entertaining as well as intellectually interesting. District 9 was about a group of sick extraterrestrials in need of help. Its inventive commentary on apartheid was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture. I think it’s fair to say the science fiction thriller heralded a new talent. That’s what makes Elysium largely a disappointment. He has replaced District 9‘s scrutiny of xenophobia and social segregation. In its place is a heavy handed treatment of the growing income gap among classes, along with immigration and healthcare reform. That’s not to say these issues aren’t ripe for critique. It’s just that the conventional approach doesn’t handle it in any meaningful way. It’s kind of a hodgepodge that gets lost in a mélange of stock villains, hackneyed writing and situations that create more questions than answers.

In the year 2154, Earth is a compete slum. Los Angeles looks suspiciously like Mexico City. The 1% have hightailed it out over to an opulent space station that sits above the planet, called Elysium. There they live a life of luxury blissfully unconcerned with the unmitigated squalor that traumatizes their fellow man. It would be helpful to illustrate why they aren’t concerned. Except for an occasional shot of someone walking around a pool, we don’t spend much time with these people. They’re the 1%. We hate them, right? Why bother to understand them? We learn that there are machines on Elysium that can cure all sickness with the mere push of a button. Since they only take seconds to use, anyone can operate them, and they’re plentiful, why aren’t they manufactured and shipped to Earth? This is never addressed either.

The performances are widely scattered across varying levels of aptitude. First the positive. Matt Damon is great. He extracts every ounce of humanity from the vague outline of the assembly line worker he’s been entrusted to play. Damon instills Max Da Costa with a spirit. The evolution of his role is affecting. He draws us into his plight as the main protagonist. Jodie Foster on the other hand is awful. As the Secretary of Defense, she executes her duties with a cold, calculating jurisdiction, frequently disobeying the orders of the President. Physically she resembles that Australian hairstylist from the Bravo reality series Tabatha Takes Over. Speaking in deliberately exaggerated tones with a fluctuating French accent, there is no motive or reason for her malevolence other than the movie needs a villain. Her dastardly plan made absolutely no sense to me. She personifies evil for the sake of being evil. Apparently Foster’s Achilles’ heel is portraying her take on a conservative as anything but a caricature. Quite possibly the worst histrionics I’ve ever seen from an actor of renown. I’m sorry, but her acting is appalling. Not that we needed additional antagonists but there are two more lowlifes to contend with: William Fichtner as John Carlyle, one of the few Elysium citizens that spends time on Earth. He’s the CEO of Armadyne, the corporation that was contracted to build Elysium. Then there’s Sharlto Copley as the South African mercenary that Secretary Delacourt employs to do her dirty work of eliminating illegal immigrants. I didn’t understand his ill defined sleeper agent either. His character is pretty bizarre.

Elysium is a confusing muddle. The effects are extraordinary. I’ll give it that. Blomkamp has visualized a world in such beautiful detail, you’ll swear it actually exists. Matt Damon is effective and as the star, that’s important. His brief exchange with a robot parole officer dummy was the highlight of the entire film for me. Hooray for humor. However the rest of the cast are painted in broad strokes. The villains might as well be twirling a moustache. Jodie Foster is shockingly bad. William Fichtner acts with an affected manner as well. They speak and behave so mechanically, I was sure they would be unmasked as robots by the end. No such luck. Elysium starts out with a mildly promising premise than descends into utter chaos by the third act. Let’s face it, a dystopian future society is cliché at this point. We require innovation. The action becomes just another climax between robotically enhanced humans in a shoot ’em up that would probably even irritate Michael Bay. By then we’ve realized there’s nothing original up the script’s sleeve and we’ve ceased to care. What a shame. Elysium began with remarkable promise.

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30 Responses to “Elysium”

  1. Nice review Mark, interesting take. I enjoyed this one, but District 9 is a better film.

  2. I wasn’t truly a fan of District 9, so I won’t go jumping for this. Good review.

    • I looked up your old review. I suppose your B- is a very mild recommendation. However, I can’t imagine anyone rating Elysium higher than District 9 unless you’re a huge Matt Damon fan.

  3. Good review Mark. The look and feel of this movie is what really works. The script could have been better and at least a bit more subtle with what it’s trying to say and get at, but it was better than most sci-fi that comes out nowadays.

    • Sci-fi is definitely in a commercial boom period right now. Last 5 years has seen Star Trek, Avatar, Moon, District 9, Inception, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Looper, Pacific Rim. Truly a great era for the genre.

  4. Still sounds a lot better than some stuff I’ve seen this summer. I’ll be catching it on Tuesday, as I have been sick. Glad you “liked” it, even though it’s no D9.

  5. I wanted to love this. Some of the things looked amazing and Matt Damon was very good. But over all I just, liked it. I love Jodie Foster , but her performance was pretty bad. I give it 3 stars.

    • While I was watching I kept thinking Jodie knows what she is doing. There must be some reason her performance is so bad. The movie ended and I was still at a loss.

  6. I agree this film was very heavy handed and lacked any true depth outside of Damon’s character but it was entertaining nonetheless. I also believe that Jodie Foster, for better or worse, played her role as written. I’m not sure anyone else would have been more effective.

    • It was a very superficial villain. Yes it was badly written. That’s not her fault But she chose the role as written so she shares some of the blame. The way she played the part was like a cartoon. Plus her accent kept changing – sometimes in the same scene. I’m glad you enjoyed it though.

  7. I very much enjoyed Elysium, so I’m disappointed to hear it wasn’t working for you Mark. I was a big fan of District 9 and although I would agree that Elysium isn’t as strong, I wouldn’t say they’re like night and day.

    There are some areas we agree though. In terms of social critique, Elysium falters because it’s just too busy. Not only is it trying to address more societal problems than it should, but the main narrative (which includes your “stock villains, hackneyed writing and situations that create more questions than answers”) totally distracts from any significant points that it could make.

    Also I felt that Damon was tremendous in the lead role, giving the viewer a lot from what you assume is a very light character. His portrayal of Max is very nuanced one that is still remarkably sympathetic. I was befuddled by Copley’s character as well and was not sure what to make of him either at points. I concur that Fichtner and Foster were awful and boring. I feel like sometimes Foster likes showing off, quite pretentiously, that she’s fluent in French. It didn’t work at all here.

    Another gripe I had was Blomkamp’s excessive use of handheld camera. The shaky cam was very distracting from some beautifully rendered environments and technology. Glad you at least liked the effects! Haha. Anyway, well-argued and thoughtful review Mark.

  8. GaryLee828 Says:

    So, what you’re saying is that Jodie Foster’s villain needed a motive to be a villain, as Michael Shannon’s General Zod had in “Man of Steel”. Got it! 🙂

    • Exactly. I hated Man of Steel but at least Zod was acting in the interest of his own people so his actions made sense. Foster on the other hand was eliminating her own people for reasons that were largely unclear.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        When i first saw this trailer in early spring i thought it looked good, but as it drew nearer i just lost interest, so i didn’t go to see it. If I read a lot of strong reviews I would have reconsidered, but i think your review confirms my hesitation.

  9. Great review. I agree with a lot that you’ve said. I enjoyed the film well enough, but I had definitely hoped for better. I said similar negative things about Jodie Foster’s character in my review, but I actually loved Sharlto Copley. He can certainly play crazy.

    • Yeah Sharlto wasn’t bad, just weird. I thought Jodie was the focal villain. When everything switched to him in the third act, I was confused. I mean doesn’t he report to her?

      • Yeah it was confusing. So much more should’ve been done with her character/her affiliation with Kruger. Also, I was amazed that that three guys could take over an entire government facility…

  10. Wow, we agree w/ a lot of points here Mark! Come to think of it, I think I was too generous w/ my rating.

    “The villains might as well be twirling a moustache.” Ahah, so true!! Kruger was bizarre and so cartoonish! And yeah, that humorous scene w/ the parole officer was the highlight for me too, but the rest of the film was devoid of wit 😦

    • Ah yes a little wit would’ve gone a long way. I almost think they could’ve gone the Starship Troopers route and made this more campy. It would’ve justified the way all the villains acted. It also would’ve made the simplistic good vs. evil storyline seem more acceptable.

      • Oh I haven’t seen Starship Troopers but seems like lots of ppl like that one. I just hate bugs and I know the aliens are bug-like right? Yeah, it seems that Blomkamp wanted it both ways, initially there was a sense of realism which was was pretty compelling but then it just resorted to something too Hollywood-ized and unrealistic.

      • Yeah the aliens are actually called The Bugs. It’s a silly film. Enjoyable in the way Pacific Rim is fun.

  11. Mark Dore Says:

    I agree on many counts Mark. I give it 2 stars. This is shades of a Star Trek episode. The rich in the clouds, the poor in the mines. Why don’t the Earth workers have the health machines? Because lack of them keeps them servants and thry lack Canada’s universal health care system. What will they do when or if the masses have access? What will happen with the overpopulation problem? I liked Matt Damon and even Jodie Foster as a cross tween Al Haig and Maggie Thatcher. Unlike District 9 this sacrificed characterarcs for preachy simpliistic ending. It was even boring.

  12. Damn! Disappointing review. 😦 But I still really want to see it when it’s out here… Been waiting for this one for ages.

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