Review: Elysium

Elysium Poster

So, the premise for Elysium – the latest film directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9) – is that, in the year 2154, Earth has become massively over-populated and disease ridden. The rich and prosperous have left Earth to live on a space station, the titular Elysium, where there are no poor people, no diseases and no crime, thanks to the invention of pods that look like sun beds that can cure everything from broken bones to cancer. Down on the planet the rest of the population is, seemingly, left to survive in squalor where crime seems to be the only way to do so effectively.

At the beginning of the film we see some Spanish-speaking children growing up in a convent; they also speak English in one part of the scene. One of these grows up to be Matt Damon’s character, Max. It seems the whole of Los Angeles (where Max lives) is populated almost entirely by Mexicans; however it is unclear whether Max is Mexican or not as he occasionally bursts into Spanish throughout the beginning of the film – less so towards the end. He also doesn’t have a particularly Hispanic sounding name unlike all his cohorts, who have names like Manuel, Rico, Julio, Sandro, etc. But I digress.

In the desperation to get off the planet and onto Elysium the population attempts to break onto the space station by attempting to land space shuttles on it so they can at least cure themselves or, at most, try to disappear into the suburbs of Elysium. But, thanks to the attitude towards the terrestrial inhabitants from the powers-that-be on the orbiting community, these sorties rarely, if ever, work. They are either shot down before they reach Elysium or are arrested as soon as they land and deported back to Earth.

Back to Matt Damon; he works in a big factory where the robots that police Earth are made. The machine he works on malfunctions and he gets blasted with a lethal dosage of radiation when he enters the machine to fix it, the factory’s robot doctor telling him he has five days to live which forces him to go to the mobsters so he can get to Elysium to cure himself. As he has no money the mob boss, Spider (the difficult to understand Wagner Moura), fits an exoskeleton to Max so that he will have the strength to steal information from the brain of an Elysium higher-up (all the rich people seem to have hard drives implanted into their head for the storage of information, by the way).

The job goes wrong and a rogue government sleeper agent, Kruger (played by a scenery-chewing Sharlto Copley), shows up and gruesomely and violently kills all but Max who manages to escape. Thus ensues a game of cat-and-mouse which ends with the kidnap of Max’s old friend from the start of the film, and her daughter, forcing Max to give himself up and be taken to Elysium.

As you can tell, this is a nuts-and-bolts sci-fi/action film set-up and it plays out with all the predictability of many of the recent offerings from the visually stunning yet badly written genre of late. Lots of people are comparing it to Oblivion, the Tom Cruise film that came out a few months back, but compared to Elysuim it’s a masterpiece.

As I’ve said, you can’t understand Spider, the mobster, it’s also quite difficult to understand Kruger as Sharlto Copley’s South African accent is incredibly thick. Also there’s something funny going on with Jodie Foster who plays Delacourt, one of the controllers  of Elysium. She plays the character with a French accent, but none of the lines she delivers in any of her scenes sync up with her lips; it’s as if she chose an accent that didn’t play well with test audiences and they’ve had to go back in and re-dub her lines with a different accent. Also, her character is relieved of command after using Kruger to shoot down immigrant shuttles, but then suddenly gains command without a struggle.

Matt Damon’s character reveals himself to be quite unlikable at a certain moment where he interacts with his friend, Frey’s (Alicia Braga), daughter.  This moment makes you realise that he has been running on selfishness and is only out for himself, he is reluctant to actually go through with the plan Spider has given him to carry out and whines about it often.  When the climax of the story plays out your sympathy isn’t with him and what plays out doesn’t affect the audience at all. The only reason he may seem slightly more heroic than he actually is is due to how vile Kruger is; he is a creepy, violent, repulsive character who has all the best scenes and lines and utterly steals the show, which is a credit to the acting talent of Sharlto Copley.

Visually this film is stunning, the ship designs are wonderfully executed and the way in which they react with the scenery around them is seamless. They actually looked like they are flying through the air, blowing leaves and rubbish around and kicking up dust. The scenes of violence are horrific and graphic, but not in an obscene way – it’s just one more example of the quality Niell Blomkamp puts into the visuals of his films.

But such is the way with  sci-fi recently. It’s all about surface with nothing underneath, but truly good sci-fi is written well and this just isn’t, which is disappointing. Brilliant visuals don’t make up for badly written characters and plot… or bad accent choices and over-dubbing.

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2 Responses to “Review: Elysium”

  1. Had a good time with this one, even if its message was a bit obvious from the beginning. Nice review.

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