Review: Wasted Potential Makes Neill Blomkamp's 'Elysium' Unexciting
by Jeremy Kirk
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
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