Elysium (2013) Review (R)

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Neil Blomkamp’s second big foray into the realm of science fiction ‘Elysium’ is a better than your typical summer romp despite some failings where the script was concerned. I saw this in GLORIOUS IMAX sans 3D, which I think I prefer, and it was the kind of spectacle that a summer movie should be while still remembering that movies should still be about the characters and not lots of shiny CGI lights. I do think it could have used more than a few tweaks . It’s funny that Blomkamp’s  “District 9′, the movie that really put him on the cinematic map had world killer steroid sized plot holes, but none of them ever bothered me. The style of that film really seemed like something out of left field. Even though, it had a smaller budget, it still felt like a BIG movie, but seemed to counter the typical narrative that you see in mainstream FX films.

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The story would be fairly simple (and simple isn’t always the worst thing in the world), if not for some convoluted plot twists and some ‘a little too fortuitous’ occurrences. The story zips right along, giving the viewer a lot of information very quickly and without saying much. It’s a world where Obamacare failed in an even bigger way than most think it will. No one on Earth has health care. Everyone lives in slums built shack style in the middle of vast waste dumps. Pollution has destroyed the wildlife of the world to the point where animals like giraffes are only seen in storybooks. The world looks like District 9 , except it’s everywhere. And the cops and most of the authority figures on Earth are uncaring robots that dole out punishment without any kind of humanistic fairness.

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The wealthiest of the human race have left the earth for the utopia that is Elysium, a gigantic Beverly Hills style resort. They live in paradise while ‘the people’ suffer below. They do have great health care (probably the same kind that Congress just opted out of Obamacare for I would imagine). They have a machine that is a true panacea to the illnesses of mankind, but it’s only for the privileged.

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Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, who is essentially in charge of homeland security (I thought they could have been just a little more subtle with that… She actually says ‘Homeland Security’ at one point).  There is a scene that goes on just a bit too long where they try to establish her as one of the bad guys. This particular sequence seems to be saying that deportation is a far worse fate than dying in a massive fireball in space. I can’t see anybody choosing the latter if given the choice, but maybe that’s just me. Where was I? Oh…

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Enter Max (Matt Damon), the everyman with dreams that are dangerously close to being squelched by the unrelenting oppressive society. Damon is a pretty good actor and he’s great in a lot of this, but there were stretches that it felt like either he or the director or the editor forgot that he was supposed to be dying of radiation poisoning. Am I ahead of myself? I think I’m ahead of myself. Max is an ex-con who has turned over a new leaf.  He’s mocked in his own neighborhood for going to work everyday (instead of, I guess, being on welfare).

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He thinks  he has a good job, even if  he is helping to build more of the robots that are used in the suppression of the populace of Earth. I think there’s a theme forming here. it isn’t until Max is pressured into a very bad /dangerous act on the job by his employer that he realizes that working his way up as a working stiff is a pipe dream. There really is a ‘man’ and ‘the man’ really is trying to hold him down. Scratch that, he wants to kill Max. After a horrible accident that ensues, Max realizes that the only way to save himself from a quick death from radiation is to somehow get to Elysium where he could be cured. The only way to get there, though, at least for someone like him, is to get there illegally and by force. And it goes from there.

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Elysium does get a little convoluted. I think it would have been a better story had it stuck to that, but there’s a whole assortment of complications from a sick child of a childhood crush to a crazy Special Ops soldier named Kruger played by Blomkamp’s buddy Sharlto Copely. The director does his best to make Kruger the standout role of the film, but I think this was another instance where less might have been more.  I don’t mean with the action scenes (I loved those), but with the whole subplot of Kruger’s perceived betrayal by… I actually think making him another part of the ‘state machine’ would have fit the story better. But that’s one man’s opinion (Mine if you weren’t sure which man that would be).

There were some other problems that I had with ‘Elysium’, but it wasn’t the plot holes so much as the plot ‘fills’. There were times where the convenience of events was just too hard to believe.  I repeat myself on this, but I think it’s easier to believe that Superman can fly than it is to believe that Lois Lane (one of the world’s top reporters) wouldn’t recognize Clark without his glasses…. And that’s not to agree with how fast she figured things out in ‘Man of Steel’, but I digress… Most people aren’t really familiar with the 22nd century. Okay, I’m not… So accepting  the future technology is easy. Elysium sports just far too many conveniences. Given the title… and maybe the Catholic background of the main characters in the story… and maybe  the vague winglike exoskeletons… and the nun’s  talk of predestination… and ESPECIALLY the way some characters kept running into one another…  I could believe that the movie’s director meant to have deeper meaning in all of this, but without some acknowledgement of that within the story to tie everything together, then all of these things aren’t symbols, but just… i don’t know. El Topo? I think Roger Ebert would have agreed with me on that point.  As it is, the way some characters are shoehorned into the story, it  just felt like plot contrivances rather than destiny or happenstance.

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There were several times where a minor adjustment to the story would have reinforced the meaning  underlying the film or improved the story by following a logical progression for the individual characters. Some of the decisions seemed to be arrived at by osmosis, by the fact that the story requires it at that point rather than a logical progression and  not by the decisions of the character to change their own course. Max, for instance is given a reason to go to the off world habitat because of self preservation instead of any nobler aspirations. The little girl’s dilemma would have changed that, but at the point where it should have been used as the impetus of the story, Max walks away only later changing his motivations arbitrarily, not because of any one moment in the sequence of events where he changes his worldview. i won’t gripe too much, though. Even if the film descended into too much of the messianic solving of the world’s problems with this one ‘Easy Button’ device, it still was far too willing to please the audience for that not to be forgiven. I know I forgave it for all of this stuff. It didn’t have nearly the strange satirical twisted sense of icky humor that District 9 had, but this was still a lot of fun.

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Blomkamp’s FX background is obvious on the screen. The design of his films have an earthy naturalistic believable feel to them. He’s an impressive world builder, despite this film sharing many of the visual characteristics of his previous effort. I guess it has some thematic similarities, too, not to mention Blomkamp keeps doing really horrible things to Sharlto Copely. That one scene in this reminded me of that gruesome gratuitous wreck in ‘Death Proof’. I have to admit, I love the Rated ‘R’  grisly moments that are sprinkled into Blomkamp’s films. they aren’t the sanitized CGI FX that you typically see in today’s motion pictures.

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This didn’t have quite the mind blowingly fresh quality that District 9 had. In fact, it’s even a little bit ‘cookie cutter-ish’…  But it’s still light years ahead of the usual summer would be CGI blockbusters (Wolverine, I’m talkin’ to you).. Even with the high quality FX, Blomkamp knows that ideas and the  characters in the stories are what good directors hang their hats on.  There are ideas here about society, class warfare, obligations to our fellow man, etc,… And it’s got some great action scenes, too. Not bad for a summer flick.

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4 of 5

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One Response to “Elysium (2013) Review (R)”

  1. […] Elysium Neill Blomkamp’s second film; another successful science fiction film that’s probably […]

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