Review – Elysium

It’s ‘The Bourne Space Station’ as Matt Damon’s lowly factory worker tries to heal the world with the aid of a big computer game gun in Neill Blomkamp’s long-awaited follow-up to District 9.

Elysium Poster

Far from engendering a state of perfect happiness, Elysium is a real let down after the promise shown by Blomkamp in District 9

Made for a song compared to today’s mega-budget tent-poles, 2009’s District 9, wherein a ship containing insect-like aliens arrives above Johannesburg in South Africa, seemed to come out of nowhere and announced the presence of a major new talent in sci-fi filmmaking. A major strength of the film is its social themes of racism, segregation, illegal immigration and corruption, all of which carry a greater symbolism when considering the South African roots of the film and its writer-director.

The overpopulated ruins of a future Los Angeles in Elysium

The overpopulated ruins of a future Los Angeles in Elysium

Although handed a much heftier budget this time round, Blomkamp retains the social commentary in his script for Elysium, exploring as it does some of the same issues as District 9, while also touching on such pressing contemporary concerns as universal health care, class divide and the resentment felt towards the one percent-ers.

That it does so in such an unengaging and disappointing fashion, therefore, is a real shame for a film that promises much but, in the end, delivers little.

The unhinged mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) in Elysium

The unhinged mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) in Elysium

Damon plays ex-car thief Max Da Costa, who’s on parole and living in the ruins of a 2154 Los Angeles that more closely resembles a shanty town. Max has always dreamt of living on Elysium, a space station orbiting Earth for the super rich who (literally) look down on the poor, overpopulated and polluted ruins of the planet. However, he has to settle instead for a factory job and having run-ins with the draconian robo-cops who do the bidding of their wealthy masters. When Max suffers an industrial accident and finds his life hanging in the balance, he agrees to undertake a dangerous mission for smuggler and hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) in exchange for a ticket to the station. But Elysium’s Defense Secretary Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has other ideas and sends her attack dog, unhinged mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley), to track him down.

Smuggler/hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) checks on an exo-skeletal Max (Matt Damon) in Elysium

Smuggler/hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) checks on an exo-skeletal Max (Matt Damon) in Elysium

Blomkamp proves once again that he’s the equal of James Cameron when it comes to world-building. The production design and vision that’s gone into Elysium is superb; whether it be something as grandiose as the 2001-esque spinning wheel look of Elysium , or as down and dirty as the graffiti that adorns the robot parole officer that coldly threatens to extend Max’s parole because it senses he’s being sarcastic. As a vision of the future, it’s dystopic and entirely believable.

However, a film needs more than great production design to succeed and it’s when you look more closely at the script and some of the performances you notice the cracks.

The 2001-esque spinning wheel of Elysium

The 2001-esque spinning wheel of Elysium

After a promising start, the film begins to tail off in the middle section and by the time the action moves to Elysium itself it doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. The final 20-30 minutes are a mess and make you yearn for more successful sci-fi movies like Total Recall and The Terminator. Certain characters suddenly seem to go off in odd directions, leaving you scratching your head as to exactly what’s going on.

Devious Defense Secretary Jessica Delacourt in Elysium

Devious Defense Secretary Jessica Delacourt in Elysium

Normally as reliable as they come, Foster’s performance (and accent) is all over the place. She’s not helped by dialogue that’s as stilted as it is cringeworthy (she tells the President to “go off to a fundraiser or something” at one point) and her fate smacks of laziness by Blomkamp. Likewise, Copley must have winced at some of the lines he was forced to spit out, while his character starts off interestingly enough but ends up coming across like he’s in a different movie. And the less said about Moura’s screeching, overblown Spider the better.

Max De Costa (Matt Damon) and his Big F**king Gun in Elysium

Max De Costa (Matt Damon) and his Big F**king Gun in Elysium

Damon goes some way to counterbalancing the poor work of some of his co-stars with a gritty and engaging performance that sess him in Bourne-style kick-ass mode for chunks of the movie. Frankly, without Damon the film would have fallen flat on its face.

On the plus side, Blomkamp handles many of the action sequences well and indulges himself in the kind of splatter-tastic body dismemberment you don’t see too often in blockbusters.

However, far from engendering a state of perfect happiness, Elysium is a real let down after the promise shown by Blomkamp in District 9.

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13 comments

  1. elroyrosenberg · August 24, 2013

    Agree – massive letdown. Very mediocre flick. Good review.

  2. CMrok93 · August 24, 2013

    Not as good as District 9, but still fine for what it was; which was a slam-bang, gripping, and exciting sci-fi, action movie. Nice review.

    • Three Rows Back · August 25, 2013

      Cheers man. Obviously didn’t enjoy it as much as yourself, really wanted to though!

  3. Robert · August 24, 2013

    All of the lukewarm reviews has made me wait for this till Netflix. Hopefully wont be to big of a letdown.

  4. Tyson Carter · August 25, 2013

    Great write up as always dude. I loved District 9 (surely everyone does!?) so still looking forward to this.

  5. Movie Review World · August 31, 2013

    I loved the initial set up of this movie but then it all fell apart, All the intelligent stuff was thrown to one side in favour for an extremely mediocre and messy action film were character motivations are lacklustre at best. Must try harder Mr Blomkamp. Nice Review and glad I wasn’t the only one who thought this film was lacking.

    • Three Rows Back · August 31, 2013

      Cheers man. I had been so looking forward to it which made it doubly disappointing.

      • Movie Review World · August 31, 2013

        Haha, I was the same. I spent a fortnight praising the director film making technique in a bid to encourage the Mrs to accompany me to see it. By the end, I looked the fool. Lesson learned 🙂

  6. Pingback: Review – Chappie | three rows back

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