[Review] - Elysium, In IMAX

Courtesy of Media Rights Capital
Neill Blomkamp's Elysium could just as easily be called "We are The 99% IN SPAAAAAACE." Unfortunately, the average episode of the Muppet Show contained more social commentary then in these two hours. Which is odd, considering the director's debut, District 9, laid the metaphor on thick and was highly successful at doing so. Did Blomkamp, seduced by the prospect of bigger stars and larger budgets, willingly neuter his own picture, or is it just another case of the sophomore slump, when the urge and need to out due the success of the first overpowers the writer's brain? Possibly, a little of both, which means we get a very big, very nice looking film that ends up trading on the names of those involved, but has little to offer in return.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are still amazed at how much the kid at the beginning looked like Matt Damon.

There is too much and not enough going on in Elysium. This is, even at just under two hours, a brisk film, with the pace never slowing for a moment. The side effect is that none of the ideas, and worse the characters, have a chance to get fleshed out. The result is a lot of action, a lot of nice visuals, but why they are happening is a have covered mystery, and the people doing them are just as unknown.

Perhaps I should say that the first act of the film is really good. If it were a short film, about a lowly human worker building robots (aw, irony) in a factory, part of the huddled masses that strive to raise enough money for a chance to go to the orbiting paradise of Elysium, then it would have been fantastic. End with him dying of sever radiation poisoning, and make it a comment on how, despite resolve some can never pull themselves out of the quagmire created by those in power to keep people down. Unfortunately, that's only the first twenty minutes of so, and the film must go on. It seems as though Blomkamp was really only interested in those first twenty minutes though, because after that the film hinges completely on standard variety action sequences, and not a single character introduced after that point is close to being fully realised.

What that first act has is charm, in the form of Matt Damon's Max, and Damon is perfectly suited for the role of an affable everyman just trying to get by. He made his name playing that sort of role, and there is good reason for that. He's sarcastic and witty and begrudged, and acts human right up to the point where he becomes less then that. The best scene in the film is probably the scene where Damon consults his "parole officer," a autonomous mannequin who monitors his heartbeat and offers him calming drugs. There is a lot about the culture of Blomkamp's 22nd century presented in this scene that could have been explored further, should have been, but wasn't.

Like District 9, the film looks amazing. The CG work here, especially on the ever present robotic forces, is top grade and looks practical. Which amazes me that these films look like this, but the Hobbit feels content to have Looney Tune rag dolls flopping all over the scene. The disparity between certain films and the level of CG that is given to them continues to confuse me, and after a decade of this sort of omnipresent use of the technology, one would assume that the quality would achieve a level of consistency across the board. Why is it, can someone explain to me, that a film like this can look this good, while better films gets the physics challenged slop? Is it just an issue of time? Is Hollywood so desperate to get product on the streets, that they cut the quality merchandise with drain cleaner?

I digress, and turn to when it all falls over. Outside of Max, there isn't a single character in this film who displays any depth at all. Frey is only concerned with saving her daughter's life, which while being an admirable goal, is all she is about. every time she opens her mouth, despite having an established past and connection to Max, all that comes out is her daughter. Likewise, Jodie Foster's military official, Wagner Moura's smuggler, and Sharlto Copley assassin are all one note. They do things, and they do things with absolute resolve, but we don't know why they do them. We know nothing of their character to make their actions seem logical, or to perhaps garner sympathy with the audience. Even Max looses focus after getting grafted to his exoskeleton, becoming a walking plot device rather then continuing the journey he started on.

There are about three films worth of MacGuffins here, and I can only assume that none of them could be padded out to full length by themselves, so all three were added in, despite not really fitting. Max's poisoning, and five day life span might have been a film, a tortured journey in an attempt to discover a cure. Frey's daughter might have been a film. And the reset codes for Elysium, the quest to use them and the fight to obtain them might have been it's own film. All together, they override each other after their introduction. Max's declining health completely disappears from the film after the exoskeleton grafting, which while increasing his strength, I assume he would still be increasingly tired and in pain from his organ liquefying, no? Instead, he seems like his old fit self, proving again that radiation isn't that big of a concern. The last two plots work in a kind of tandem, alternating between which gets the primary focus until the very end. But when one is in the line of sight, the other is forgotten about, until the switch comes. Which makes the last two thirds of the film very disjointed and uneven.

It also looses the commentary. There is an occasional remembrance of the point of the film (including a great line about a lawn being ruined), but after Damon becomes part hydraulics, there isn't time to focus on the political message of the film, or the social metaphor at work. Because now it's time for cars to explode and for people to have sword fights, and for Blomkamp to unhook the camera from the dolly and start whipping it around so that, not only can't you make out what's happening, but when the hard cut comes and everything comes to a dead stop, your lurching with seasickness. Spectacle takes over, and after that it's all just a write-off. Which is doubly disappointing because Elysium was meant to be one of the great hopes of the summer, a big budget original picture. Sadly though, like Now You See Me and Pacific Rim, simply being original doesn't mean that you don't have to try. And between the two science fiction films showcasing the craptasticness of the future, I'd say this summer's clear winner is Oblivion.

Time spent watching Elysium is time spent waiting for the better movie whose DNA is showing, to arrive. And it never does. It is rife with stilted performances (including Jodie Foster's disappointingly absent and apathetic turn, exemplified by her affected regionless accent which she occasionally forgets to use), an overbearing soundtrack in the vein of the Dark Knight, where instead of music it was just sustained notes, and a sort of disinterest on the part of the writer, where it felt like at a certain point even Blomkamp didn't care about the characters, which is probably why they all became selfish bastards after a point. The only real achievement the film made over it's run time was a new record in number of humans that pop like meat balloons in a major Hollywood release (I counted five).

And the only real fun of the film was playing "spot the Canadian actor." Hello Daniel Jackson, Continuum's most confusing Freelancer, and Carly Pope's weird hair.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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