I think it is safe to say that Elysium is the last big budget blockbuster to come out this summer. As we enter what is the barren wasteland of movie releases that is August, a lot of the movies are going to become very hit and miss. On a personal note, other than The World’s End, Elysium was the last film to come out this summer that I was actually looking forward to seeing. Neill Blomkamp’s previous work, District 9 is an amazing movie and a fun way to look at issues such as segregation and racism in a different, more science fiction tone. Once again, Blomkamp takes one of today’s more hot button issues like immigration and turn it into a science fiction epic. The movie is a step down from District 9 on many levels which include acting, the screenplay, and the overall effectiveness of the film. But this should not detract people from what is by all accounts a very enjoyable movie.
The story takes place nearly a century into the future. As overpopulation has swept across the globe, Earth has become a wasteland of slums and over farmed deserts. The wealthiest among the human race (and we will get to sociological and racial issues in a moment) have built a new habitat in Earth’s Orbit known as Elysium. It is a circular type of space station that is basically wealthy suburbia in space. The wealthy people of Elysium have since blocked immigration to the station, not wanting to suffer over populization that earth has suffered. This becomes a conflict sociologist’s paradise as the wealthy Caucasians, Indians, and Asians of the world have sealed themselves away in Elysium and kept the have nots, most notably the Latinos and Blacks out of their home (with a couple of races mixed into each pool). The story then centers around Max (Matt Damon) a reformed young man who is now trying to hold down a steady job at a factory to make ends meet. When he suffers from a working accident that gave him a full dose of radiation poisoning, he is given five days to live before his organs completely shut down. In order to save himself by going to Elysium where they have beds that can cure any sort of illness (including cancer, radiation, and completely lost skin tissue) he agrees to help an insurrectionists attempting to get people to Elysium, named Spider (Wagner Moura) in order to get a ride to Elysium and save himself. After he completes his task, he comes across information that can completely reboot all of Elysium, thus making everyone allowed to benefit from the technology. The story then follows Max’s attempt to get to Elysium, helping Spider reboot the system, meeting his old childhood sweetheart Frey Santiago (Alice Braga), saving her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) who has leukemia, and being chased by a rogue group of South African operatives lead by a fantastic villain named Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
This is by far something I love about Blomkamp and a reason why he is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors to watch. He takes some very serious sociological issues like the Apartheid Era of South Africa and turn it into a science fiction movie like District 9. I love the conflicting sociological issues that are presented and the stark contrast in futuristic technology with these destitute slums.
In Elysium, the subject is a mix of immigration as well as the divide in racial classes that we can see today. I do enjoy the fact that ‘Elysium’ itself is, for the most part populated with Caucasian, Indian, and Asian races while Earth is predominantly Black and Latino. It is a very good commentary on the haves and have nots of the world and what could be the future if we do not address the situations that is presented to us.
I also enjoy the idea of immigration and how it is used in this film. Moments when transports are landing in Elysium and Earth civilians begin sprinting out of the space craft look very similar to watching immigrants flee from a van during a police chase here in the States. (Very effective symbolism) I think it is a very smart and very subtle nod towards the current problems that our countries face and a way of saying that we as a society of humans need to address the problems with immigration and racial segregation and how we need to tear down these barriers that face our society instead of the lucky among us flying up into space and leaving the others behind.
I Love the Use of Other Languages
I am so happy that other languages were used in this film. I really do not like it when a film features a group of people whose primary language is obviously not English and yet they speak in English (with accents of course) just so people don’t have to read subtitles, a ploy I find very condescending. But no, this film does a great job of featuring different languages as well as English. It would make sense with English being the Lingua Franca of the world today that everyone on Elysium and Earth could speak it. But I do like the moment when Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) speaks french to her house guests. I do like that Max and the people of Earth use Spanish and English interchangeably.
It is a very subtle add to the movie that I think really helps benefit it and helps showcase the aforementioned racial segregation that is present in the film. Spanish and English would be used side by side in a predominantly Latino society and in a place like Elysium I would think romance languages, English, Mandarin, Japanese, and Hindu would be very prevalent. Whenever a director takes the time to showcase this the way that he did really shows an attention to detail that I feel is missing from several director’s in today’s film industry.
The Story is Exciting
This is a movie that will keep you entertained. It has that right level of intrigue and action that surrounds it to keep you on the edge of your seat and wonder where the film is going to end.
The action shots are very well done and the effects are top-notch. Like Pacific Rim, Elysium is one of those movies that if you want to see a very fun and bombastic, yet thought-provoking and intriguing film then they will satisfy your desires. There is nothing in the movie that is dumb and it never once attempts to talk down to its audience or dumb itself down for the masses. It is very smart and fun experience.
Oh man, Sharlto Copley gives… Boy, he sure does give a performance in this film. I don’t really know how to put my finger on it. In many ways he is one of the best villains I have seen in recent history… And in other ways he is the goofiest villain that I have seen in recent history. I’m not really sure how to classify him. Eccentric most definitely, but other than that… I got nothing.
Copley’s character Kruger seems to take the place of Jodie Foster’s character as the central antagonist of the series. Kruger is essentially this sleeper agent who lives on Earth. He is there as a means of ‘crowd control’ and to work as a spy for Elysium. It is also well established that Kruger is a nasty person to deal with who has on many occasions taken part in murders and rapes at his leisure.
He is hired to hunt down Max after he collected the information about Elysium from the target and once learning that he can completely reboot the Elysium system, him and his two other South African commandos decide that a coup is in order and try to take over Elysium themselves.
There are moments where this guy is legit terrifying and comes across as a cold-blooded killer with a strange set of morals (since he was going to heal Frey’s daughter because she is a girl)… And then there are moments where the guy just gets straight up goofy. Some of it does come from his thick South African accent. The moment he is talking to Frey and is trying to intimidate her by saying he wants a wife and says ‘waf’ instead… The scene was supposed to be very intimidating and uncomfortable and I was on the ground laughing. Then there are moments when he is stalking his way through Elysium shouting that he is coming for Max with all the grace and dignity of Jason Voorhees if he were a Bond villain.
And I’ll be honest I loved every moment of it. He was scary, intimidating, eccentric, and goofy all rolled up into one big megalomaniac ball. I was hoping to see more of him and his brigade of soldiers in the film and whenever they died, I was kind of bummed that we didn’t get more cheesy villain gold from them.
Chemistry between the Actors is a Little Out of Wack
It isn’t that the actors in the film gave bad performances, in fact many of them give really good performances. The problem is that they just have very little to no chemistry between them. Now in other less able hands, this film would have crashed and burned so hard that the flames would be burning from the theater for weeks, but luckily this too was not the case. With the right actors and the right director, they were able to push through and present a pretty fun summer movie. But I was never once invested in the characters or the story. By that I mean, I never once got caught up in the story, I knew that I was still watching a movie and I knew the people on the screen were actors playing rolls, not people living life.
I just couldn’t feel the connection that the movie was trying to go for like the friendship between Max and Julio (Diego Luna). Now this might be that the second I saw him on screen I knew this guy was a goner in the next action scene that was going to come up. But then there is the relationship between Max and Frey. They are supposed to be childhood sweethearts and yet I feel like they are just two acquaintances talking to one another. I can understand the fear and intimidation that Kruger’s character presents, but never once did I understand why things got so personal between him and Max other then he was threatening his lady friend who I already established do not have much chemistry either.
The only time I felt there was a strong connection was between Max and Frey’s daughter Matilda when Matilda is telling him the story of a meerkat and a hippopotamus. That scene was almost heart-breakingly sweet and well done. Plus many kudos to Emma Tremblay for a pretty awesome performance as Matilda. But the same cannot be said for the others whose chemistry really hurts the film.
The problem with a movie like Elysium is that it has to establish a mythos and a world around it… And keep it within the 90-150 minute run time. This is a pretty daunting task and one that is very hard to pull off. Now from Blomkamp’s other movie District 9, it is obvious that he can do that and still keep a rich and interesting narrative… The only problem is that he doesn’t do it as well in Elysium. While District 9 was paced very well and was able to present the world in a way that felt almost seamless, Elysium feels a lot more rushed. The movie seems to jump from scene to scene as fast as it can.
While it does give some quiet moments for more suspense to build, everything just feels rushed and quick. One minute Max is a working class guy trying to make ends meet, the next he is a cyborg, then a paramilitary South African strike force pops up to unleash hell, then there in space. It feels like everything is just being thrown at you as quickly as possible because the film still has stuff to fill the audience in on.
While it isn’t some of the worst pacing I have ever seen, it is certainly a step down from what I would expect from someone like Blomkamp.
This film was a lot of fun to watch. It doesn’t hold up to District 9 on just about every level, but it sure as hell is entertaining. The acting is well done, the movie is thought provoking, and will leave you wanting to act on the problems that we face today.
Yes the pacing is off, the chemistry is wonky, and there are several quick cut scenes to keep your interest but this should not detract you from enjoying the hell out of this movie. I recommend to go see it if you get the chance.
Final Score 3/5
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