Thursday, August 15, 2013


While I was in Los Angeles for my wedding anniversary last week The Other Half and I saw the movie Elysium, the follow-up film from Neill Blomkamp, who directed District 9. Elysium was one of my most highly anticipated films of summer 2013 because I was so charmed by Blomkamp's debut work.

However, his second film is not as well-received by critics (66% favorable) or audiences (70% favorable) as his first (critics 90%, audiences 79%). This is unfortunate, because Blomkamp is working with a bigger budget and bigger stars (Oscar winners Jodie Foster and Matt Damon). The star from District 9, Sharlto Copley also appears in Elysium, as one of the key bad guys in the piece. Copley is a quirky actor, and his casting as Kruger is one of the weak aspects of the film. He simply does not convey the sense of menace as one would expect in a summer blockbuster villain; he's more like the weird, homeless guy in the subway you want to avoid not because you're afraid of him, but because you're just grossed out or uncertain about the guy's boundaries.

There are other problems with the film as well. While it's great to see Jodie Foster working in films (especially after her infamous Golden Globes speech this year where she said she was quitting the business), her Delacourt is a corrupt, elitist bureaucrat with ice in her veins who is willing to do "whatever it takes" to defend her society's morally bankrupt way of life. But, the film doesn't do a good job of really exploring or explaining Delacourt's motives. Is it just a lust for power? One would hope that there is a more complex motive for Delacourt's action than the typical desire for control. Plus, what going on with her accent? (It sounds vaguely European mixed with South African). Copley's Kruger also sounds South African, which is not surprising to those of us who recognize him from District 9, but there's no explanation why a violent and unhinged mercenary has a South African accent.

I must say that generally the use of language is one of the strongest aspects of the film. Damon's blonde, blue-eyed Max is shown speaking fluent Spanish in his orphaned, youthful past and in his squalid, hellish present. This Spanish in a sea of brown bodies and faces is juxtaposed with Delacourt's smooth French in the well-manicured, very civilized (read: White and upper-class) on Elysium. Elysium, as we know from the trailers, and very early on in the movie, is a floating habitat that the select super-rich have created and retreated to, leaving a desperate and destitute Earth to the multitudinous, teeming hordes. The use of language as a proxy for class is deployed skillfully and quickly illustrates the bifurcated nature of life in the future that we the audience are going to be experiencing in Elysium.

The central tension in Elysium is whether our main character, Max (Damon) is going to be able to figure out a way to Get Up There (to Elysium) in order to have a chance of getting access to near-miraculous machines which can fix basically any health problem. The plot to get him up there ends up with Max having information uploaded into his brain that could potentially completely change the balance of power between Earth and Elysium. The fact that there are millions (if noy billions) of people on Earth who do not have access to basic necessities of life (food, water, shelter, health) while a coddled few have access to all these in addition to miraculous health care is a clear commentary on current political debates going on in America and elsewhere. However, as Alyssa Rosenberg cogently argues, the sharp political wit that was so present in District 9 doesn't make much sense in Elysium and ultimately disappoints viewers who were excited by the visionary nature of that film.

I don't want to reveal too much of the plot twists except to say that all though the action doesn't always make sense (Blomkamp apparently has a tenuous grasp on the Newtonian laws of motion and other aspects of physics which can be distracting) it is always compelling. A friend of mine who saw Elysium at a preview described it as "a cross between Jason Bourne meets Terminator 150 years in the future."

Title: Elysium.
Director: Neill Blomkamp.
Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.
Release Date: August 9, 2013.
Viewing Date: August 9, 2013.

Writing: B-.
Acting: C+.
Visuals: B+.
Impact: A-.

Overall Grade: (3.0/4.0).

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Despite featuring plenty of promise that it sadly doesn’t live up to, it’s still fun and thrilling enough to be watched and enjoyed. Good review Ron.


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