Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence and Language throughout
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga & William Fichtner
In 2009, Neill Blomkamp delivered an unexpected hit with DISTRICT 9. The film had everything that great science-fiction stories contain. It had cool ideas, impressive effects, deeper meanings behind an original story, and was exciting from the first frame until the closing credits. Moviegoers praised the movie and it was held up as a standout of the year by many (myself included). It’s been four years and Blomkamp has returned with a remarkably more mainstream science-fiction blockbuster. Missing are the modest little known actors. Gone is the subtle commentary on the state of humanity. These have been replaced by a slightly creative premise that’s done in a familiar fashion and the typical flaws of any other big dumb science-fiction blockbuster. ELYSIUM is far from terrible, but it feels like a missed opportunity in a lot of ways.
Set 151 years from now, ELYSIUM shows the Earth as an overpopulated ruin of its former self. Pollution is everywhere and the economy is so low that life in prison seems like a far better alternative to struggling to survive day-to-day. Meanwhile, all the wealthy are citizens of Elysium, a massive space station high above the Earth. On Elysium, they have a perfect atmosphere, stunning mansions, and a system for health care that can cure just about anything. Is it any wonder that the poor constantly try to blast off to this floating paradise….only to be captured or killed in the process?
Max Da Costa (Matt Damon with a shaved head) is a former criminal trying to go straight, but encountering a lot of difficulty presented in the form of the robotic guards that patrol our planet. After being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation, Max finds his only chance for survival in the form of a plan to go to Elysium and things get drastically more complicated from there. A specialized assassin, named Kruger, is after Max. Add in the factor that the rich will stop at nothing to keep Max from reaching Elysium.
I mentioned earlier that ELYSIUM feels like it’s missing a lot of crucial elements that made DISTRICT 9 so amazing. My complaint isn’t that I was expecting anything near the level of DISTRICT 9 (this being a follow-up to that film). Instead, I’m saying that without these important aspects that were thrown in to create an original and overall important piece of science fiction, ELYSIUM falls into being just another big blockbuster with a twist. The ideas presented aren’t really that original and the characters lack a compelling nature.
Part of the latter could be attributed to the performers themselves. Matt Damon is just playing an action hero (one with a troubled past, no less). Jodie Foster is wooden as a Elysium’s Defense Secretary, sporting an unidentifiable on-again-and-off-again accent of some sort. Alice Braga is thrown in as an afterthought (and possible love interest to Matt Damon). Then there’s Sharlto Copley as Kruger. Copley previously played the protagonist in DISTRICT 9, but here he’s the villain. It seemed like a good change of pace for this actor, but he just goes way too over-the-top evil. Threatening children and using a fierce arsenal of weapons (some which literally blow up the victim into meaty chunks of who they once were), he’s more than just a moustache-twiddling villain. He’s tying the damsel to the train tracks and then driving the whole damn train towards her, while screaming obscenities the whole way. It’s distracting and silly to say the least.
The main problem I have with ELYSIUM isn’t the bad acting or the overblown shaky-cam (seriously, some scenes you couldn’t even make out who was doing what to whom). I take major issue with the plot itself. It seems very straight-forward on paper, but ELYSIUM keeps throwing in new elements along the way that feel like last-minute additions to lengthen the movie. From a sickly child being introduced during the last hour to a new threat that only takes precedence in the final act (which could have made for an entire movie by itself), it feels that director/writer Neill Blomkamp was stretching himself to the breaking point in trying to make another grand science-fiction spectacle with a brain to it. Speaking of which, the social commentary feels like you’re being hammered in the face with a sledgehammer. The premise itself is commentary enough, we don’t need any more cryptic dialogue or over-the-top portrayals of what scumbags the wealthy people are.
ELYSIUM feels like a gun-for-hire vehicle that Arnold Schwarzenegger would have starred in during the 80’s. It’s ludicrous, silly, overblown, and stupid in a whole lot of ways. It’s decent when taken from that angle and the world itself looks top-notch, but there are so many flaws that plague this film that it takes it down from the level of potential sci-fi classic to just another big budget B-flick. ELYSIUM could have been the former, but is very much the latter. Worth a rental, but nothing more.