'Elysium' Review

‘Elysium,’ the new science fiction movie starring Matt Damon, is equal parts triumph and disappointment.

Commingled with a startlingly grimy vision of our future world are a simplistic sociopolitical commentary and a few truly surprising creative choices that undermine the lofty ambitions of ‘Elysium.’

Director Neil Blomkamp wowed critics and audiences alike with his debut feature ‘District 9’ in 2009. A seamless story about the dangers of racism (specifically Apartheid) was interwoven with a fresh vision of a future dystopia and brought to life with dazzling effects and action.

‘District 9’ garnered an Academy Award nomination for Adapted Screenplay and heralded a strong new voice for science fiction as social commentary in director Blomkamp.

The Concept

In the future year of 2154, the wealthiest of Earth’s inhabitants live on a luxury space station in the planet’s outer orbit. There is no crime, disease, or poverty on Elysium.The remaining human population is left on the Earth’s surface to live in chaos and squalor, amidst the ruins of a crumbling humanity.

When ex-con Max (Matt Damon) is exposed to a deadly dose of industrial radiation, his only hope for survival is to gain access to one of the many “healing bay’s” on Elysium, which could save his life.

Elysium, however, is governed by elitists who prefer that the unwanted members of Earth’s population stay away from their pristine space Utopia. And Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt deploys lethal measures in protecting the safe haven from intruding Earth-bound citizens. In order to save his own life, Max must risk everything to gain access to Elysium, and may cause a social revolution in the process.

 

The Film

‘Elysium’ reminded me of the first draft of a great college paper. ‘Elysium’ is pregnant with interesting ideas, but lacks the conviction or experience to fully present them. Some of the science fiction genre’s great works have dealt with issues of equality or the inherent dangers of promoting classism.

Authors George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Robert A. Heinlein, and Issac Asimov are well known writers whose fame sprung forth from their adept observations in stories of “social science fiction.”

Philip K. Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ is an example of movies that effectively captured the ramifications of racism and separatism. When the novel became ‘Blade Runner’ under director Ridley Scott, the provocative ideas of its author matched the visionary style of the film director.

‘Elysium,’ unlike most of the major films released this summer, is an original work. Many classic Sci-Fi films are based upon other works. Often, that source material is a work of literary fiction. Where ‘Elysium’ obviously aims to belong in the “thinking person’s” category of science fiction, it fails to provide adequate details that would qualify it for inclusion therein.

The audience is never given an explanation of: what happened to our society, how the caste system works, what motivated the creation of Elysium? If you present me a movie as mindless, popcorn escapism Sci-Fi…that’s how I will accept it. When you market a film as a more socially relevant piece of work, which the concept/conceit of ‘Elysium’ is; prepare to be scrutinized rigorously by fans of the genre.

I actually really liked this movie, believe it or not. It just isn’t the film that it could have been. Yes, I’m mad at ‘Elysium.’

Great concept, terrific visual style, top-tier talent involved. What’s not to look forward to with this movie? The end result is more like a decent blind date, unfortunately. ‘Elysium’ sure looks gorgeous, but we just couldn’t connect. We can be friends.

Credit must be given to Matt Damon. Without his performance as ‘Max,’ the movie would not work at all. ‘Elysium’ takes the calculated risk of casting an immensely likable actor as its lead so that very character development is necessary for us to identify with him. Glimpses of his childhood through daydreams serve to connect us with Max. In the interest of pacing, Blomkamp forgoes a prolonged backstory. It works.

Damon is equally believable as ex-con, romantic lead, hero, and put-upon tough guy. He’s not just playing himself, here, trading on his persona. Damon’s performance is excellent as we walk with Max on his journey of confronting the challenges before him (or is it destiny?)

For as perfect a casting choice as Matt Damon is, equally miscast is Jodie Foster. I’m not sure why she’s even in this movie. Foster’s muddled foreign accent and leaden delivery create apathy towards her character. We want to loathe our on-screen bad guys, or at least enjoy them. For an example of doing it right, look back to Alan Rickman in the original ‘Die Hard.’ In Foster’s defense, the part seems poorly conceived.

I would have loved to see Jodie Foster as a fearsome, angry bitch of a bad guy. Instead, she comes off as a poor imitation of Ronny Cox’s ‘Cohaagen’ in the 1990 ‘Total Recall.’

Sharlto Copley’s villainous Kruger proves a worthy adversary to Max. Copley has charisma as a very bad man and the film would have been better with Kruger as its primary or sole villainous character.

The scheming Delacourt (Foster) comes off as silly and an all-too-obvious jab at corporate fascism (or the 1%) and its ties to government. William Fichtner, as John Carlyle, seems another waste of acting talent with his boring “one-note” performance as a corporate executive with ties to Delacourt.

 

The Bottom Line

Did I mention yet that I liked ‘Elysium’? Blomkamp’s sophomore feature possesses an interesting story idea, solid and original special effects, and a tight sense of pacing that keeps the movie humming right along from the beginning.

‘Elysium’ displays a fine performance from Matt Damon, and the reasons that the film connects with audiences is due to his presence. Sharlto Copley (District 9) is equally good as the film’s feral Kruger, who’s out to stop Max at all costs.

What’s missing are depth of storytelling and a fully realized vision of the future. A “shotgun blast” of great ideas are introduced and then quickly abandoned.

Judging the film as “thoughtful social science fiction” and an important entry amongst classic intelligent Sci-Fi films: ★★☆☆☆

Rating ‘Elysium’ solely as a summer Sci-Fi action entertainment: ★★★☆☆

 
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2 thoughts on “'Elysium' Review

  1. I completely agree. While the action itself was great, the shaky camera effects made it hard to watch. I got a little dizzy in a few of the fight scenes.
    The idea of the movie is very interesting, which is the aspect that brought me to see it. However, it seriously lacked in depth. I was expecting a bigger explanation about how humanity destroyed itself, how everything came about, like the movie “Pacific Rim,” which did a wonderful job describing how Jaegers and Kaiju began.
    The acting displayed by some was mediocre as well. Jodie Foster, in particular. I have seen her portray characters with a lot more heart than it seems she did with “Elysium.” Matt Damon on the other hand, played his character wonderfully!
    Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It kept me interested for the most part, but like I said, seriously lacked in depth. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

    Like

    • Thank you for visiting and commenting, Dani.

      There’s a lot to enjoy in ‘Elysium’: Matt Damon’s performance, a terrific sci-fi premise, and Blomkamp’s energetic directing style.

      The problem for me is that there’s an even better movie underneath the finished product. ‘Elysium’ seems to want to be thoughtful and socially relevant. It just doesn’t close the deal with what appears to be an underdeveloped script.

      Let’s hope that a “Director’s Cut” on DVD better captures ‘Elysium’ and shows us Flixnerds how great it could have been.

      Fun summer movie? Absolutely yes.
      Classic intelligent social science fiction that will stand the test of time? ‘Elysium’ falls short.

      ‘Pacific Rim’ is still this summers best, most under-appreciated genre film.

      You’ve got some great insights, Dani. Thank you for stopping by.

      (P.S.- Agreed. Enough with the shaky camera work already! You’re making us all feel seasick Hollywood)

      Like

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