Saturday, August 10, 2013

ELYSIUM Review- Jonesy's Take

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Wagner Moura, and Diego Luna
Synopsis: A terminally ill man seeks to cure himself by breaking into Elysium, a satellite where only the rich people of Earth reside. 

Director Neill Blomkamp busted Hollywood's doors open four years ago with his first feature film, DISTRICT 9. The film was slick looking, smart, and was nominated for multiple awards. Now he's back with his sophomore feature, ELYSIUM, which has the same aesthetic feel and allegorical-type story. However, with as great as the film looks, it lacks the story, tension, and character work of his first film. Plus, ELYSIUM is down-right dull.

On the positive side, Blomkamp is a fantastic visual director/designer. Set in the later 21st century, ELYSIUM depicts two societies of the humanity. The rich have fled the over-populated Earth live in a circular spaceship where it seems there is no class, war, or disease. Everyone else lives back on Earth which looks like every other post-apocalyptic landscape. Aesthetically, this world feels real and gritty. Shots of Elysium slowly spinning with the Earth in the background were astounding. If all else fails for Blomkamp, he would always be a great second unit director.

However, having a pretty film can't save the story or characters. Not sure what happened to his writing over the past four years, but this story is full of holes and inconsistencies. Max (Matt Damon) is a blue-collar factory worker on Earth, who has had trouble with the law in the past, is exposed to a deadly dose of radiation. His only hope is to make it to Elysium and have his body healed by these magic tanning-bed-looking machines that rid your body of disease. How convenient. But Elysium is next to impossible to immigrate to thanks to the Secretary of Defense, Jodie Foster (who dons the strangest accent I've ever heard). That's obviously not her character name, but most of the characters are so one-note and forgettable. Without proper citizenship to Elysium, she will shot your ass down. Got to keep the illegals out somehow. Damon gets help from a smuggler, Spider (Wagner Moura), in exchange for help, Damon must download information into his brain from his former employer for Spider's black market use.

There are glimpses of an interesting story, but all of that falls to the wayside from the overall lack of tension. The plot ends up being very predictable. Damon has something to download in his head...wonder if it will be a last minute upload to defeat the Jodie Foster? There's never a real focus. Are we suppose to completely focus on Damon, or be more concerned about the wider scope of this world? The themes of class warfare and illegal immigration are blatantly spelled out for us. Hell, the Department of Homeland Security still exists in this world, so just to be sure you have some context and understanding. Even with Damon as the protagonist, it was difficult to completely sympathize or care. Damon was fine with what he was given; it's just a weak character.

One bright note among the rubble is Foster's henchman played by Sharlto Copley. Copley plays an entertaining bad guy with no motivations other than to kill some fools. Normally, a lack of character for a henchman isn't a huge deal, but given the amount of screen time he gets, it was strange to literally know nothing about his motivations or decisions. But he has a cool sword.

This film completely embodies what a disappointing summer flick is. It has glimmers of a great film, but overall ends up completely imploding on itself because of a boring, predictable story, static characters, and beating our heads in with its themes. Here's to hoping Blomkamp learns from this film, so his next can capture the magic I know he has.

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