Ryan here. I’ll be flying solo this week with a look at Neil Blomkamp’s sci-fi thriller Elysium (R).
Set in the not-so-distant future, Elysium presents a divided future where the very wealthy live on a Garden of Eden-type space station while the other 99 percent of the population live on an Earth that’s been ravaged by disease, pollution and social decay. Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley and Alica Braga costar in the film.
Ryan: Blomkamp’s last feature film, District 9 (2009), was one of the best contemporary sci-fi films of recent years. It was a memorable film that captured what people like about sci-fi films – great action set against an allegorical story. It was masterfully crafted. Unfortunately Elysium doesn’t measure up to the greatness of District 9. Elysium certainly isn’t a bad film, but it struggles mightily at the end in resolving its philosophical and narrative conflicts.
One of the biggest issues with Elysium is that it’s not as fleshed it as it could have been. Blomkamp is a talented filmmaker. And like Christopher Nolan, he’s a master of telling a story in an immediate and dynamic manner.
From the drama to the action, Elysium feels hyper-real. The film aesthetics (special effects, tone and world-building) are fantastic and noteworthy. Stylistically, Elysium is one of the best looking films of the summer. But unlike District 9, the meat of the story is not fully integrated into the narrative. There’s obvious political issues that the movie touches on (immigration, pollution, wage inequality and health care), but none of these issues are dealt with in a satisfying manner – it’s too black and white. There’s an emptiness to it that is frustrating cinematically.
Also adding to that frustration is an ending that completely collapses upon itself. There’s a lot of action going on at the end of the film,and Bloomkamp’s cross-cutting between scenes leaves a lot to be desired.
Not only is there a hollowness to the more philosophical issues of the film, but ultimately the end of the movie lacks that big emotional payoff that one would have hoped for. The film suffers from “blockbuster-itis” where they just had to have an over-the-top action set piece to conclude the film.
Also falling short is the development of the two lead characters played by Damon and Foster. Damon’s good in the film (When isn’t he?) but his character is poorly underwritten. The depth of the character is framed by flashbacks and the filmmakers clearly go to that well one too many times. Obviously we root for the character, but it’s a stretch to completely buy into his motivations.
What’s even worse is Foster’s performance/ role. It’s not all her fault. Her character is a one-note villain and she plays it straight, but too straight. Being a little hammy in a part like this would have been acceptable. But she seems incapable of delivering that type of performance (although, to be fair I’m not sure what actor could have salvaged that role).
Also disconcerting about Elysium is its general bleakness of humankind. Not to get all spoilery, but the film’s narrative is not resolved by any of the characters having a change of heart. The world is only changed inadvertently through a loophole in a computer program.
It really seems like nobody in the movie learned anything.
And that is demoralizing.
Stylistically, Elysium is worth watching, but from a substance standpoint the movie falls short.
Final grade: C+.