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Elysium

2013-08-29 11:58
 
Elysium
What it's about:

In the year 2154, two classes of people exist. The first are the very wealthy who live on Elysium, a pristine man-made space station built by the Armadyne Corporation. The rest live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth.

Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster), a hard-nosed government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That does not stop the people of Earth from trying to get in by any means they can. When unlucky ex-con Max (Matt Damon) is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

What we thought:

Elysium, the newest film from wunderkind, Neil Blomkamp, shares some parallels with his debut, District 9. It’s a sci-fi film with a none too subtle commentary, it makes extensive use of township locations, is especially concerned with the plight of the downtrodden and it features over-the-top violence. Perhaps Blomkamp is looking to fill the space left absent by Paul Verhoeven, who also made sci-fi films with over-the-top violence and heavy-handed themes.

The film is set in the year 2154. 2154 makes 2013 look like a Golden Age and it goes without saying that the people of 2154 must look back on the good ol' days of the early 21st century with particular fondness. Earth is polluted, diseased and its resources all but depleted. The rich have vacated it for a shiny space station called Elysium which sits just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving the poor to eke out whatever wretched existence they can manage. So I guess the meek do inherit the Earth, but given the state of things, I don't think they'd consider themselves especially blessed.

Because Elysium has medical technology that can cure pretty much anything, people from Earth regularly try to smuggle themselves there, but they are quickly blasted out of the sky by Jodie Foster’s Jessica Delacourt, who is Elysium's Secretary of Defence, and who seems to take a great deal of relish in her job. Matt Damon plays Max, a former car thief who’s left that life behind and now works in a factory assembling robots. When he suffers an accident that leaves him with mere days to live, he fixes a plan to get himself aboard Elysium so that he can be cured.

Is this film as good as District 9? Frankly, no. Despite their similarities, Elysium is burdened with a story that feels sluggish and lacking momentum. District 9’s story was no great shakes either, but it moved quickly enough that we didn’t notice its shortcomings and it was packed with enough humour and incident that it felt as if every moment gave us something fresh and new.

Elysium feels like it takes a while to get up and running and even when its plot kicks into gear, the film does lack a sense of urgency, which is poor form for a story about a man desperately racing to save his own life.

Not helping are the two biggest names in the film, Damon and Foster, feeling almost non-existent as characters. Foster does play her role with appropriate venom but there doesn’t seem to be much weight there, while Damon’s Max seems equally lacking in any meat. If I were to have a strength enhancing metal endoskeleton grafted onto my body (as Max does in this film) I might have something to say about the matter or otherwise react to it, but Elysium treats this as a mere plot-point with little other value to the character.

In terms of performances, it’s Blomkamp’s former leading man, Sharlto Copley, playing a government assassin, who makes the most impression. His Kruger is a colourful character who is by turns fun and repulsive and is responsible for injecting the film with some much needed humour. Local audiences should get a particular kick out of the many South African-isms that he and his two partners ad libb into the film.

If all that makes Elysium sound like a bad film, rest assured, it isn’t. It does show some imagination in terms of design and world building (though, for my part, I found the 'world gone to hell' in Children of Men far more effective). The special effects are also very convincing, with Blomkamp being one of the few directors working today capable of rendering effects that feel a natural part of the world they’ve been inserted into.

If you liked District 9 with its heavy-handed allegory and rough around the edges Sci-Fi, then you’ll find much about Elysium to enjoy. But it is not a film that grips you with any particular intensity. If its story had been better managed and the two main characters given more to chew on, this would’ve been a much better film without a doubt.


District 9 director Neil Blomkamp's newest film feels like it takes a while to get up to speed and even when it does kick into gear, it lacks some urgency.

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(Comments may be edited or deleted at the Channel24 editors’ discretion)
Gabriel 12/30/2013 5:29 PM
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Great movie, watched it in cinema and thought that Sharlto Copley was great as the villain.
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