Friday, August 9, 2013


The amazing visual style cannot make up for the swiss-cheese plot and flimsy characters of 'Elysium.' Made for fans of mediocre hole-filled, action-packed and great-looked sci-fi movies.

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.


There’s nothing worse than when a highly anticipated movie completely lets you down. After District 9, I expected writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to continue his refreshingly original take on the science fiction genre. I expected it to be one of 2013’s very best – but Elysium is nothing more than an ’80s B-movie with a budget, amazing visuals and great actors giving lifeless performances.

After watching the last trailer for Elysium, I found myself confused about the plot, but shrugged it off because I had blind faith in Blomkamp. Too bad I didn’t heed the red flag then. This is what I took from it: set in the future, Matt Damon is an honest man who mouthed off to some robot cops that broke his arm. The arm wound somehow left him jobless and with only five days to live. Beaten down by “the man” and unable to access one of the upper class magic healing medical machines, he becomes a savior to the poor by sneaking onto the orbiting upper class space station “Elysium” and freeing the lower class. This story that I took from the trailer is much more concise than what Elysium actually offers.

While studying film, I remember reading a quote that a good director doesn’t show you a single thing that doesn’t have significance – be it character development, plot-furthering, etc.. I need to rummage through my old books and find where that idea came from so that I can share it with Blomkamp. The majority of the first 30 minutes of Elysium are purposeless. Much of what’s shown has absolutely no impact on any aspect of the movie. A few title cards explain how Earth functions 100+ years in the future: the rich live on Elysium, a Halo-esque ring high up in Earth’s orbit; advances in technology basically grants eternal life to the rich; the lower class live on the trashed and over-populated Earth; Los Angeles now resembles a third world country. We see an orphaned Matt Damon learning life lessons from a catholic sister. He becomes friends with a girl. Together, the two daydream and talk about the day that they’ll go to Elysium. Cut to 30-something years later.

Damon is now a tattooed ex-con worker bee that’s left crime behind. He goes to work at the factory every day, reports to his parole officer. He has been rehabilitated, but still carries the attitude and mouth of a criminal. We watch the arm-breaking altercation with the police unfold, then he goes to his parole officer for an unnecessarily long and inconsequential scene, followed by him going to a hospital. It’s there that he runs into his old female friend from the orphanage (Alice Braga). It’s apparent that she has left him in the dust due to his criminal past. He coaxes her into going out for coffee, then heads to work. There, we see an accident that leaves him with only five days to live. After the accident, he angrily steps into survival mode. Knowing that medical devices on Elysium are his only chance of survival, he selfishly makes it his goal to sneak up to Elysium.

We’re now 30 minutes in and we’re just barely getting into the conflict. Damon randomly finds a way to get to Elysium that also offers a shot at revenge on the evil wealthy factory owner who won’t take responsibility for the soon-to-be deadly accident at work. It just-so-turns out that this evil man is also in cahoots with Jodie Foster’s powerful character on Elysium. Convenience ensues, along with an off-his-rocker assassin.

The concept and world of Elysium is grand. The sky is the limit, but nothing is realized in a fashion that meets its potential. Aside from a couple awful action shots during the movie’s final fight scenes, Elysium excels in visual style – but many of the visuals recycle elements from District 9 and show that reveal the truly half-assed style of filmmaking that I hope Blomkamp doesn’t make routine. Because the styles are so similar, if you didn’t know any better, you could easily confuse Elysium for a District 9 sequel. The space ships, weapons and vehicles are identical – all taken from a debunked Halo adaptation that Blomkamp and Peter Jackson once collaborated on. Half of their Halo pre-production designs went to District 9, the other half are found in Elysium with some overlap.

My biggest complaint with Elysium falls on the wishy-washy characters. Motivations are 100 percent non-existent. Damon’s reason for going to Elysium is absolutely selfish – self preservation – yet with an unexplained flip-of-a-switch in the end, he’s fighting for the greater good. Foster’s villainous character and Shalto Copley’s assassin flipflop for no reason. Braga’s character continues the fickle and flimsy trend. She’s meant to add heart to the story, but only turns into an equally unmotivated selfish character.

This final thought was not my own observation, but belongs to Reel Place mastermind Will Robertson. SPOILER ALERT: It feels like Blomkamp couldn’t come up with a climax, so he popped in Armageddon for some inspiration and ended up stealing the entire cheesy final scene with Bruce Willis saying his goodbyes to Liv Tyler. Click here to see what I mean. “It looks like I’m going to have to break that promise.” Lame, Blomkamp. END SPOILER.

From the guy who gave us District 9, I’m disappointed by how mediocre Elysium turned out. Not even a magic medical device for the wealthy can save Elysium from being a sad attempt at originality. Movies like this give science fiction a bad wrap.

Photo credit: Sony Pictures

2 1/2 out of 5

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