Review: Wasted Potential Makes Neill Blomkamp's 'Elysium' Unexciting

August 9, 2013


In Elysium, writer/director Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi, epic, blockbuster follow-up to his sci-fi, epic, not-so-much-blockbuster District 9, we're introduced to a future society that pits the luxurious haves against the downtrodden have-nots. It's a conceit that has become standard-issue for modern day sci-fi, and there's an undeniable emptiness within the proceedings despite the creativity Blomkamp injects into his story. Matt Damon's savior of the underprivileged is the vehicle for which loads of action, some of it quite spectacular, tries to save the day, but the results are too flat for Elysium to be more than decent, dumb fun.

Damon stars as Max, one of the 99% stuck on the overpopulated and under-sterilized future society that now plagues Earth. The 1%, those rich enough to get the hell out of the horrible conditions, live on Elysium, a ring-shaped space station where they live their days with drinks by the pool and medical bays that wipe out any traces of illness. Naturally, security on Elysium is tight, and ran by Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster), it's ultimately lethal for anyone from Earth to travel to the space station without authorization.

Since childhood, Max has dreamed of getting to Elysium, but it's only after he is hit with a lethal dose of radiation that he goes through with a plan to finally make it. A small band of revolutionaries fuse an exoskeleton to the man, making him partially machine, and they set out to steal the identity of one of Elysium's members and get Max to the station. But if everything went perfectly to their plan, Elysium wouldn't be much of a movie, would it?


From its opening moments, the story found within Elysium is on shaky ground. That has little to do with the cue cards in the beginning that catch us up to what life is like 140 years into the future. This technique is as routine as it is necessary. But Elysium's opening act throws far too much at the audience without nearly enough care or grace.

The choppy editing doesn't do the film any favors, but the way it threatens convolution keeps everything at arms length from the audience. A connection to the poorly treated characters goes with that. The characters aren't necessarily unsympathetic. It's easy to feel bad for the helpless being stepped on. Maybe that's why Blomkamp's characters are so out of sync with Elysium's desired drama and emotion. The obviousness of their plight and shallowness to the film's message disconnects you from the characters. The convenience and ridiculous coincidences going on around them is what disconnects you from the rest of the film.

Even District 9, Academy Award Best Picture nominee that it was, suffered from a lack of subtlety and convenient plot details. All of that was far more nuanced than it is in Elysium, though, but that's not the main reason why Blomkamp's first feature film worked so much better than this follow-up. District 9 was emotional, horrific, and awesome. Every element from the body horror to the incredibly staged action scenes hit with perfect energy.


Elysium targets all of these same elements. It's just that the film's aim can only be described as sloppy. Max's exoskeleton is a cool concept, but save for a few moments where he has to rip through something metal, it's wasted. The action that kicks in once Delacourt disperses her "company man" here on Earth, Kruger (Sharlto Copley), is big, but thanks in large part to an over-usage of slow motion, it's hardly ever exciting. It's only 3/4 of the way through when the action moves from the dirt roads and gritty slums of Earth to the green gardens and overlit corridors of the space station that Elysium can even remotely be described as kick-ass. Even then, the kick-assery is spotty at best.

The best of these more awesome moments have to give their credit to Copley who gives the villainous Kruger the sadistic edge the character needs. The actor steals every scene he's in whether it's opposite the melancholic heroics for which Damon has just the right amount of heart or the awkward pretension Foster brings to Delacourt's table. On that note, every scene Foster is in is hindered by whatever-the-hell accent and delivery she's giving her character. You expect to anticipate her nefariousness against Damon's gallantry, but all the while you keep wondering what insanity Kruger is up to.

That's just one of the negative blips on Elysium's radar, but there are too many of these to go unnoticed. Ultimately, the ludicrousness in the film's screenplay and waste of potential to its action keeps it from ever being anything more than a decent blockbuster. Yes, Blomkamp's style and the designs of Elysium's world are noteworthy, the latter being another minor high point. However, what could have been an awesome work from a true visionary of science fiction cinema stands just on the wrong side of amazement. We've seen this "brave new world" Blomkamp wishes to show us, and we've already seen it executed far better.

Jeremy's Rating: 6 out of 10
Follow Jeremy on Twitter - @JeremyKKirk

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  • kschmidt50
    well that just put a damper on my plans this weekend.... thanks a hole
    • Jeanne Trais
      don't listen to him. go see this film. you will not regret it.
  • chris
    Im sorry jeremy your review of the movie I just cant agree with you. @d25c59edce9caf0b48722e316ab5a385:disqus go see the movie you will not regret spending the money.
    • KeyserSoseOwnsYou
      Chris nailed it on the head! I saw it last night and I'm on my way to see it again @ 3:30. "Unexciting" psssh it's about as unexciting as Robocop and Terminator! Eff this guy's's idiots like him that are ruining the movie going experience.
      • Jon Odishaw
        He's not ruining anyone's experience he's expressing his opinion. And if I were to express mine I'd say you're being kind of a twat.
    • Tyler Morgan
      A site that has been privy to all footage of a movie they've hyped endlessly for months realizes at the 11th hour that it's, basically, a waste? Media at its finest.
      • Landfill
        I was thinking the same thing. Just about every blog and website is balls deep in Elysium but First Showing waits til opening day to bash the film? It's quite unorthodox.
  • KeyserSoseOwnsYou
    EFF you Kirk! You missed the mark on this one in an effort to stand out! THIS MOVIE ROCKS!!!
  • cineast4
    What a ridiculous "review" almost seems to revel in hacking the film (and district 9) to pieces...
    • Jeanne Trais
      Agree wholeheartedly.
  • JJ
    I find the tendency for movies which end up with negative reviews seem to hit well into the opening day. I guess it's not surprising that less glowing reviews would drive down interest of people looking for a steering opinion when faced with the increased cost of a movie going experience. There are many people that are pumped for a movie, due to months of advertising and promotional content, who will see it regardless of a review. I would rather see consistent review release times rather than have the impression media outlets are witholding the review hoping to let audiences commit to them before they can read your content/opinion. I value the efforts and passion this site demonstrates as movie details are known, especially about movies such as Elysium. Why not be honest, upfront, and promt with your audience when commiting to publish a review for a new movie?
    • 2BoldlyGO
      @$$ kissing at it's finest lol
      • jj
        Rather the point being, "reviews" either good or bad should be consitently posted at the same time. @$$ kissing has nothing to do with it.
  • Tits
    We're the millers was pretty funny
  • Jacob Denton
    the action and sfx were beautiful. the small handful of action scenes were just right. not too little. not too much. it wasn't a kill fest like the end of D-9. it wouldn't have fit here. The movie is just a simple Robin Hood tale and I don't see any problem with that. As much as I care for actual story in a movie, its flaws went unnoticed by me because I was too engaged in how fucking gorgeous the CGI was. Also, some of the camera work in the action parts were absolutely amazing! Nothing I've ever seen before in a movie personally. It was fantastic in Imax.
  • IntelektualProp
    yea, I am going to have to agree with the majority of commenters, aside from the consistent sacrificial element Neil Blomkamp tends to bestow on his main characters, and the fact (spoiler alert) that Frye is the same actress who also had a kid in I am Legend, who kinda needed saving, the movie and story was still pretty awesome. I don't know what Jeremy was reviewing but Neil knows Sci-fi. This movies actions was on point and just enough. The weapons and their usage were so clean and crisp. A waste? are you serious? I would go see it again, sorry Jeremy you drop the ball on this reviews.
  • Xerxexx
    Sci-fi is like comedy what some one finds funny others find stupid. After all the damning reviews of Iron Man 3 I read and then finally seeing it I no longer listen to critics. Even Billington and friends. Thanks for your opinion though Mr. Kirk.
  • Professor_Bedlam
    This is the first review I've read that didn't like the movie. Sounds more like jealousy because he didn't come up with this idea then a review!!!
    • kLO
      I know, right? Most early reviews I've read are all positive. Sounds like more fanboy shit this site is notorious for.
    • cobrazombie
      You should get out more, because there are many reviews highlighting the same issues with this film. And the review didn't say it was bad, just not as good as its potential and pedigree.
  • Use your mind
    As I like to say,reviews are nothing but opinions from the ones who utter them. You too,reader, have an opinion . You are not an helpless zombie who relies on someone else's perspective to influence what you think is suitable for you. You have a mind,make sure you use it.
  • Largo
    Sony Studios, like Fox Studios, just plain sucks.
  • blkstar
    Just got back from the watching this movie and I didn't hate it but compared to District 9 I didn't enjoy it much either. It's not a bad movie, but there is something lacking/missing. Visually stunning movie, story wasn't bad either, I feel it had a lot to say about whats going on today as far as the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. But if you expect this movie to be action packed it's not. Basically all the action you see in the trailer, for the most part, that's all there is. I feel it had more potential but missed that excitement factor like Pacific Rim. I compare it to Pacific Rim because so far that movie was the only summer blockbuster that made me feel satisfied. Remember I didn't hate this movie like IM3 but I didn't come out praising it.
  • Kill my Bill
    Don´t agree with the reviewer. It wasn´t perfect but it was very entertaining still. Saw it two hours ago and must say that I loved most of it, so much that I will see it again on sunday. Only problem I had was that it felt too rushed, the plot has no time to breathe, everything moves so fast, and characters inlcuding Max are never developed. Once Max only had five days to live after the accident and seeks out Spider the story never stops until it brings Max to Elysium and that made the scope of the Elysium story seem somehow smaller than District 9, it is about one mans mission to save himself. The reason why this felt so rushed compared to district 9, which had the same story elements, is that here we don´t have the wonderful aliens that the protagonist could interact with, but only secondary characters that are not very interesting, and that applies for Jodie Foster´s chracter also, she just wasn´t that compelling as a villain. It was Kruger´s bad ass antiques that save the film. As I said I liked it so much because it had a wonderful tight story and awesome action, but I´m afraid I will not like it as much as district 9 with repeat viewings. It is just not as good. A warning to those who won´t see it soon: Please don´t watch the trailers and countless clips, because they reveal all the action scenes and there is not much else fresh to see in the finished film.
    • cobrazombie
      Is Kruger like a futuristic, evil Lovejoy with those "antiques"?
  • kLO
    Who the hell is this reviewer? Seriously, critics are raving about this film. Anyone who goes into this expecting D9 is a moron.
    • Karl Nilsson
      because its a near-future-slum-ridden-distopian-political-commentary-turned-action movie with tons of shock factor gore featuring unknown actors in a dingy realistic version of earth where the 'haves' marginalize or outright abuse the 'have nots' that ends with... a spoiler? wait i forgot which one i was describing...the point's the same; they're certainly not the same movie but there are totally comparisons to draw between them.
      • Nils Karlsson
        I agree. However, I'd like to see more of this unknown actress Jodie Foster. She really showed some star quality in her performance. I could care less about Matt Damien though. He was a bit wooden for the lead role. Don't think he'll get a shot at the big time outside of South Africa.
        • Karl Nilsson
    • AaronPaulJawImplant
      Elysium sucked and the vast majority of reviews were mixed to bad. 67% on RT is garbage.
  • Jeremy, you are one hard guy to please, but your opinion is your opinion.
  • Lamar
    For the 1st time I can remember, I agree with Jeremy. It was a good film, but to be honest I was expecting better. I saw a review earlier yesterday and knew going in there wasn't a whole lot of action...and I still got bored in the middle part. District 9 was easily a better movie. The best part (and everyone seems to be in agreement about it) was Copley's portrayal as Krueger. Dude was crazy! During the action in the 3rd act (when they finally made it to Elysium) I was saying, "Why wasn't the rest of the movie this cool?" Short review: "It was alright. District 9 was better."
  • Eric Wilson
    I may still pick this up when it hits Blu Ray, but I'm a little tired of the whole "look how much better the 1% have things" themes that are becoming prevalent now a days. And as far as the movies mythos goes it's easy to shake your fist at those who live on Elysium and vilify them. But if you suddenly came into enough no eyes to get you and your family there you would do it in a heart beat.
    • Sagamanus
      Lol.Yeah we should have nothing but films that indulge the nobility of the rich. And how we should all aspire to fly as close to that greatness as possible. And if the rest of us should fail in that endeavour, well to f-ing hell with us. We deserve what we get in life. Right?
    • Karl Nilsson
      i was surprised to find its less about the occupy complaints as it was about illegal immigration / healthcare. i still found myself wishing it was more about 'plot points' though
  • Jeanne Trais
    Agree with most of the comments here. I'm not sure where all your negativity is coming from. It sounds like you're just picking it apart for the sake of getting a review done. And it's always easier to find and focus on the negative, then try to find the positive. Take another look now that you've put in your hours.
  • lars
    I'm sure as hell not going to take this reviewer seriously, especially when he gave Total Recall 2012 a 7/10 but gives Elysium a 6.
  • Guest
    Brilliant movie...horrible review
  • dqniel
    I agree with the review entirely. The movie was the definition of mediocre. I think the editing had a lot to do with it, but it had some other fundamental flaws as well. The writing was horrible at times, with dialogue so direct it was laughable. Many lines featured the character flat-out telling the audience what their intentions were. Also, the story was developed with no subtlety and therefore no immersion. District 9 worked so well because a good amount of time was spent showing us the quirks, and unique interactions, of the various characters. It made us feel like we understood the environment and the people/things at stake before we were plunged into the dilemma. Elysium skipped most of that.
  • Fatal Error
    I loved the film, but when I compare it to my expectations of it, I would say it fell short. I still think as a sci fi action movie it deserves an 8 out of 10. Jodie Foster's accent was South African,
  • Karl Nilsson
    Highly creative and totally fun to watch... but the immigration / healthcare / 99% metaphors were simply too heavy handed and kept me one away from actually caring about the movie. Not that I wouldn't recommend it, it's a ride.
  • Sad Show
    Elysium was horrible a sad shadow of district 9, weak writing at best. Give me something different, I felt like I had seen Elysium a hundred times due to it having same story line as every other action movie in the past 5 years. Is it to much to ask for some entertainment from a 100 million dollar production or at least more of the cool robots that easily could have done much better then Crouger and his whole crew.




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