Film Review – Elysium (2013)

elysium-poster

Release date: 9th Aug 2013 (US) / 21st Aug 2013 (UK)

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner.

Ever since his outstanding debut film in 2009, “District 9”, Neill Blomkamp has been a name to watch amongst scifi filmmakers. With that film, the young South African director was able to wrap up a compelling human story in a larger-than-life universe which was a throwback to the golden age of hard scifi where bold social commentary and shock gore were standard practice. Needless to say, as news began to circulate that his sophomore film was in production with a budget of $120million, he quickly became labelled “the man who will save scifi”. After such a long wait, it’s with a heavy heart that I have to report “Elysium” absolutely does not deliver.

As with any big films, I did my best to clear my head of all the hype and make sure I watched it with an open mind, clear of any exaggerated expectations. Despite that, there is no way around the fact that this is just not a good film. At the very least, don’t we get some incredible effects and action sequences? No, we don’t. The trailers hint at armies of military robots, which we do not see. The actual screen time for the small number of robots in the film must be less than ten minutes. The action is so shaky that these sequences are uncomfortable to watch (note: I am one of the few people who actually like shaky cam shots).

The only redeeming aspect is Sharlto Copley who plays the film’s villain, Agent Kruger. Blomkamp has done a good job in creating such a vile character, and he is brought to life perfectly by Copley. Aside from him, the rest of the leading cast are unconvincing at best. I have given up trying to decipher the accent which Jodie Foster is failing to impersonate, and the development of Mat Damon’s character seems to consist of him being a small Spanish-speaking boy who grows up to be the only middle-class white American who is stuck working in a dangerous factory. He has tattoos and a shaved head though, so I suppose that’s not a problem.

One of my favorite aspects of District 9 was it’s unapologetic attitude towards delivering blatant messages about human nature, racism and segregation. Elysium seems to attempt the same type of social commentary in such a clumsy fashion that it falls flat on it’s face. Whether they were exaggerated or not, District 9 had believable characters doing what seemed to be natural and acceptable to them. Elysium gives us some bloated stereotypes with legs walking around shouting “Hey you should relate to me” or “I am a typical bad person”.

For the first thirty minutes or so, this is a believable introduction to an interesting universe in which we care about the characters, but by half way it has already spiraled off into ridiculousness and is completely predictable (unless you are predicting amazing battles and a big showdown, because you won’t get those). After trawling through the millions of posts arguing about the messy political themes, I’ll leave you with the most valuable sentence I found – “The wait for Blomkamp’s next film will be much easier”.

Pros:

  • Great performances from Sharto Copley and William Fichtner.
  • Some impressive CG, although underused.
  • Interesting tech/military ideas, but again underused.

Cons:

  • Predictable, cliched and clumsy.
  • Plot holes beyond a reasonable level.
  • Badly paced.
  • Not even in the same league as District 9.

Trailer

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  • Chris Bob

    I disagree entirely about the action sequences. The heist set piece is my favorite action sequence of the year so far – and there was virtually no shaky cam at all during that sequence.

    • scifimethods

      The heist is the definitely the high point for the action in the film, and has the main “exploding robot” money shot, but it’s all down hill from there. The first fight with Kruger is where it get’s too shaky and there’s too many tight shots so we can’t see anything (like the energy shield) properly. Could he take out his sword any more slowly?

      • Chris Bob

        I thought the final fight was great, too. Didn’t really notice any shaky cam. More quick editing than anything else. But D9 had the same thing, yet the action was still great. The screenplay for Elysium had its issues, but the action, as well as the effects, are two things the film did incredibly well, IMHO.

        • scifimethods

          I don’t want to come across as if I hate shaky cam (it’s a great directorial device and when used well really draws you into the action) but I just found it so intrusive in this film. In the final battle between Max/Kruger, I think we see one, maybe two blows actually connect – too much is implied with just motions, sound and facial expressions. We are supposed to be watching two cybernetically modified warriors but this fight could have been straight out of any standard action film. The D9 robot-suit sequence was far superior in every aspect. I am starting to worry that we got some sort of dumbed-down version in the UK to keep the age certificate at a ’15’.

          Don’t get me wrong, the special effects were very good, just there seemed to be hardly any of it, given what he was able to do with just $30million in D9.

          Thanks for reading anyway 😉

          • Chris Bob

            Hey, I love this site. I just RESPECTFULLY disagree with the shaky cam. I mean, I would like to think that maybe I saw a bit more clarity since I’ve seen the film several times and can now take in more details on each rewatch. However, even when I saw it opening night in IMAX I honestly never had issues with the camerawork. I can see how some people would maybe find the editing to be too rapid–but during the fight scenes–even though they were shot with a sense of energy, Blomkamp still employed a stabilizer on the camera rig that he used.

            I totally agree that the exosuit sequence in D9 was far more inventive. But let’s be honest… that sequence is hands down one of the best action set pieces of the last ten years–not just for 2009. It’s gonna take something ultra-creative from Blomkamp to be able to top that any time soon.

            Still love the heist sequence, though. Just wish we got more grappling combat with the droids. But still, I loved those slo-mo shots. And I generally tend to despise slo-mo. It’s a gimmick shot more often than not.

          • scifimethods

            OK thanks, I will probably watch this on Bluray in a few months and re-evaluate it a bit. Thanks again for stopping by.

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