Tuesday, August 20, 2013



Written & Directed
Neil Blomkamp

     What if there was a livable space station, floating above an apocalyptic Earth, where within seconds, you can lay down in a highly advanced machine that cures and wipes away any disease or ailment that is in or happening to your body? Cancer, gone. Broken arm, fixed. Blindness, cured. This is one of the concepts and plot devices in Neil Blomkamp's latest film Elysium. As a whole, the film is a mixed bag. It has some glorious visuals, ideas and intensely shot action sequences, but also has poorly, underwritten characters, annoying, confusing accented villains, mainly Jodie Foster, who is usually right on in everything she does and editing that takes all the energy and joy out of those action sequences with an unbalanced mixed of slow motion nonsense. Elysium is better than most summer blockbusters, but just because it is an original idea and not a sequel, comic-book film or remake, does not make it something that has to be cherished and given positive assessments.
     Elysium takes place in the future. It is 2154, in a desolate, overpopulated Los Angeles and the wealthiest individuals on Earth have crafted a man-made station, Elysium, to reside in and live a satisfactory life for themselves. On the other side of the coin, Earth is in ruins. It is a dust bowl. There appears to be no future, no sufficient medical care and an almost lawless society, policed by robots. These robots are quite a sight to see. They are very sophisticated in that they act and move much like human beings. One man, Max (Matt Damon), attempts to take on the divisive, polarized worlds that the humans on Earth live in and those on the space station, once he is in dire need of special health treatment. See, the space station Elysium, has that machine that cures all within seconds. The fight is on to not only save Max himself, but help create equality for those on Earth.
     I really do like when we get to see a film that is different than the majority of crap coming out of Hollywood and I had high hopes going into Elysium after the wonder and excitement of Blomkamp's  District 9. It just did not put a hold on me though. It felt has if the film should have been cut down some and had more time for character development and history, not mention the completely cynical approach and look at the future of mankind. The rich, elite, most wealthy people on the planet have basically said, screw anyone who has to work in a factory or go to public school. We are going to live above, literally, like Gods with our clean air, vegetation and fine drink and instead of helping and being responsible for those less fortunate than us, basically say "go away and die." The film's approach is an interesting, highly cynical view of people with and without power, but it is all the little things that truly cause it to fall apart.
     I give a lot of credit to Blomkamp for creating an apocalyptic future that speaks about the quality of life, but the film just was a not succinct enough. Damon, who was good as always, just was not that interesting. His character had little to say and, although he was in and out of jail for stealing cars and was trying to get his life back together with a factory job, I just could not get invested enough into his character to care that much. The acting was good, but just not enough to chew. The little back story that began the film where Max and his friend Frey (Alice Braga) show the beginning of their friendship, which evolves to bigger meanings later in the film, was not enough to get me involved and seemed like an easy way to start the film.
     The bigger problem lies in one of the chief villains of the film, Secretary of Defense on Elysium, Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Foster, who is one of the best actresses working and has been since Taxi Driver, was just all over the place. She speaks many different languages on the station, being that she has to converse with so many of the wealthiest people from all over the planet, but I do not know what was going on with her voice. Her delivery and accent sounded different each time she was speaking in English and was highly disappointing and distracting throughout the whole film. Also, her scheme to take over the leadership on Elysium was poorly guided, executed and not written to be very convincing in its depiction on screen. It seemed like a way to include the other chief villain in the film, the maniacal, sinister Kruger, played by Blomkamp's right-hand man Sharlto Copley.
     The character that was written well, maybe more for his acting, was Copley. He was as villainous as they come. A relentless South African mercenary on Earth that is charged with tracking down Max, who, and this is where the story really gets going, has downloaded the plans and computer program so that Delacourt can take over the presidency on Elysium. It is in his head now. Very sci-fi and futuristic. Max had been hit with severe radiation at the factory he works at and was only given five days to live. He goes to his former thief buddy Julio (Diego Luna) who takes him to a premier hacker and perpetrator Spider (Wagner Moura). Spider, through hefty sums of money, can get people on spaceships that will take them to Elysium, especially those that need the medical care that the wealthy have on the station. Spider wants that program, after he finds out about it when they hijack industrialist John Carlyle (William Fichtner). The race is on.
     Back to Kruger. He is great and there is one scene where his face gets blown off, although his brain is still functioning, where the film, along with its vulgar language, gets its R-rating. One problem with him though is, like with Foster, is that the accent seems to change from scene to scene and is somewhat indistinguishable. Confusing, but Copley was very good at being the films bad guy. I do not want to delve too much more in to plot details, since the film is interesting to see without knowing too much, but I really did love Kruger. Great evil dude that has his own plans as for the future of Elysium as well.
    The editing was also a problem for me. Just show me an action scene like they did back in the 70s. I know with these high speed digital cameras and meticulously detailed CG we can see a robot being blown up and witness every scrap of metal flying off it in a million directions, but come on. Fast paced, well editing scenes. It was distracting, especially since, even though there was a lot of CG, it was not overwhelming like in Iron Man 3. The visuals were astonishing though and the two worlds created by Blomkamp were beautifully crafted. The space station was a joy to look at and the worked-in look of the robots, space crafts and depleted, overpopulated Earth was intense and satisfying.
     Overall, Elysium is a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed some of it, but also found a lot of the film to be a step back for Blomkamp. That is not to say he is not a visionary director, who I am still excited about seeing his future work, but it just was not a solid effort. The cynical nature and view on this futuristic Earth was good, but the little craft things, such as the editing, character development and Foster's accent, took the film in a poor direction, not to mention some of the plot that was good in some areas and bad in others. Blomkamp is a talented filmmaker and I am hopeful for him and his talent. He is someone that is not sticking to remakes and superhero films, but putting new ideas on film. I just wish those new ideas were supported by more details and focus on narrative structure. Hey, Kruger was a badass though.

Photo credits by IMDB.

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