Sunday, August 25

Movie Review: Elysium

I’m a fan of sci fi so when I saw the poster of Elysium and the words “Matt Damon”, “Jodie Foster” and “Director of Disctrict 9” I knew I had to watch it. Especially with the last phrase! District 9 is one of my favourite films of the last few years. The film had a brilliant dirty, and grounded, feel to it and featured a compellingly flawed protagonist. Jodie Foster and Matt Damon were also draws. Damon was great in the Bourne trilogy and I’ve always admired Jodie Foster for films like Silence of the Lambs and Taxi Driver. She also speaks French fluently, which is awesome.
I always try and mediate my expectations, but it was hard for me to feel anything but excited for Elysium. Unfortunately expectations didn’t match reality and I left the theatre with ambivalence.

Elysium is set around 100 years in the future. The Earth is overpopulated, its resources strained, pollution and poverty are the norm. Anticipating the decline of Earth, the rich and powerful built Elysium; an exclusive orbiting space station. Elysium is paradise compared to Earth. The land is lavish in greenery and lakes, the air clean, robots serve the whims of the populace. People live and die in luxury, with no hardship or toil. Most importantly for the plot, Elysium has medical technology which can cure any illness, disease or injury.

Matt Damon’s character Max doesn’t live on Elysium, he lives in Los Angeles. While most of the population are unemployed, Max has the rare ‘fortune’ to have a job; working the assembly line in a robot factory. During one of Max’s mundane work days, he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and finds he has 5 days to live. This spurns Max into action, driving him to find his way onto Elysium and with it live saving medical technology.

The Earth segments of the film are by far the most interesting. There is a real authenticity to the dilapidated Earth. The city is covered in filth and people wear grimy rags. They shamble indifferently through their daily lives. The police force has been replaced by cold automatons; the parole officer converted to a talking plastic head. The attention to detail and thoughtfulness gone into creating this world is simply fantastic. When you look at these environments you believe they are real. The director's (Neill Blomkamp) vision for this imaginary world is brilliant and I would have loved to see an entire film set in this version of Earth. The main cast of Earth manage to add colour to the world. Max has an impressive criminal record and is troubled by his past and present. Spider is a flamboyant gang leader who heads an organisation specialising in human trafficking onto Elysium. Max’s child hood friend Frey provides a nice scene or two. As enjoyable as the Earth scenes, the same can’t be said of Elysium.

They look, its Mass Effect!
While the set design and aesthetics of Elysium are great, the characters and scenes fall completely flat. Jodie Foster’s character, Delacourt, is the head of security in Elysium and is completely flat the entire film. The rest of the characters in space fare no better. As a result the Elysium scenes are by far the dullest of the movie and detracted from the quality set by the Earth scenes. Additionally the allure of the otherworldly Elysium was diminished since I’d seen it before; The Citadel in Mass Effect. Some parts of the design and concept are so similar that I was never struck with a sense of awe or wonder at Elysium, since I had already experienced that with The Citadel.

After a few scenes in Elysium and Earth the plot crystallises: Max wants to get to Elysium to save his life. On Elysium Delacourt wants valuable data that’s in Max’s head. This leads to various scenes of conflict between the antagonist’s agents and Max. The action manages to be visceral, extremely satisfying and poignant. It’s not flashy, quite the opposite, and its used sparingly. When there is conflict it’s done in a style where each and every action feels powerful. Injuries look and feel painful; there is no action film schlock here. Despite these strong scenes, the film fails to deliver in other areas.

The film features multiple characters and most are completely forgettable or superfluous. Out of the entire cast I only remembered the names of Max and Spider. The worst offender is Frey's daughter who needs to be cured on Elysium. While the mother herself is a reasonable character, her daughter is simply a plot device. Even though the film tries to use the daughter to give gravity to some of the scenes, I didn’t care at all. As a result of the forgettable cast, I wasn’t engaged in the film most of the time. As a result I noticed several ‘plot holes’ or inconsistencies, and started to see some characters inclusion in the script, as only there to propel the movie from scene to scene.

Ultimately I felt disappointed with Elysium. The initial Earth scenes were great and I wished the entire movie could have been of that standard. The action scenes were done extremely well, and I’d love to see that style in more films, but the plot and characters fall short. The ending was also far too clean and happy compared to the tone of the rest of the movie, leaving me feeling rather empty inside. As a sci fi fan I felt it was worth watching but just barely.