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”.
- Great performances from Sharto Copley and William Fichtner.
- Some impressive CG, although underused.
- Interesting tech/military ideas, but again underused.
- Predictable, cliched and clumsy.
- Plot holes beyond a reasonable level.
- Badly paced.
- Not even in the same league as District 9.