Elysium review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Director Neill Blomkamp surprised everyone in 2009 with his debut sci-fi tale, District 9. It was such a fresh and original concept with impressive visuals on a rather low budget. After witnessing his work, I was all for Blomkamp making more movies as were the producers based on the acclaim. However, sometimes you need to be careful with what you wish for. Elysium isn’t quite the horrific result of an ironic Wishmaster-esque request, but it certainly proves that Blomkamp isn’t an infallible writer/director.
Essentially, this is a gorgeous looking dystopian tale of rich-versus-poor. Earth is now a polluted planet of overpopulation and poverty, policed by robots that do everything from hassle citizens to determining parole. The wealthy elite has fled to the off-world colony of Elysium, which resembles the circular structures from the Halo video games almost exactly. Not only do they live the high life of an artificial paradise in lavish mansions, but they also enjoy the benefits of miracle healthcare machines that can cure everything from cancer to polio within a few seconds.
This naturally attracts many planet hoppers that are promptly shot down or deported back to the planet by order of the shrill Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster). One of the unlucky inhabitants of Earth is Max (Matt Damon), a robot factory worker on parole that unfortunately ends up with radiation poisoning on the job. With a few days to live, Max volunteers to don some cybernetic braces and attempts to infiltrate his way into Elysium with nothing to lose. His actions are soon taken notice of by the higher-ups and mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who chases Max throughout the film liked a crazed Aussie huntsman.
I’d hate to think of Blomkamp as a one-trick pony, but Elysium repeats several elements from his previous film and not as well. The gritty wastelands of Earth resemble the African setting of District 9 as do several scenes from the ground-to-air assault to the futuristic weapons that make bodies literally explode. It feels as though the producers ordered Blomkamp to make something almost exactly like his 2009 hit, but water it down for a more mainstream audience in hopes of increasing ticket sales. This includes making the story and characters as far from subtle as possible. As a matter of fact, this may be one of the most blatant tales of class warfare I’ve seen in quite some time.
Thankfully, the one area Blomkamp excels in the one area that he delivers the best: the visual direction. Everything from the set design to the robots and spaceships are top-notch and well-utilized. I never once felt bombarded by special effects, but still appreciated the craft of what was presented. At times it almost feels underused just for how stunning everything is rendered. Blomkamp does such an exceptional job in this arena that’s it’s very disheartening how he directs the actors that fill these beautiful shots. Matt Damon does his best for this type of hero, but Jodie Foster brings in a confusing accent while Sharlto Copley hams his up a little too much.
I was expecting more from such a new and creative director. What he turns in is a movie with awkward acting, a blatant allegory and a confusing story littered with various plot holes. If it weren’t for Neill Blomkamp’s flair for brutal action sequences and visually appealing designs, this would’ve been just another mindless sci-fi blockbuster. My advice to Blomkamp: keep directing stellar films, but hire a writer. With a better script, he’ll be capable of helming some of the best science fiction films ever made.