Review: ELYSIUM

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Neill Blomkamp, the ingenious writer/director of political sci-fi movie District 9 follows up his critically acclaimed film with a sophomore release which mostly disappoints. Blomkamp continues the tradition of politically savvy sci-fi with Elysium, but lacks the nuance and subtlety of his freshman film. In fact, if he were just a bit less subtle, a random character would have marched on the screen with a bullhorn screaming for immigration and healthcare reform. At one point I was expecting Keenan Ivory Wayans to pop up and say, “Message!” as he does so in a parodistic manner in his spoof film Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Blomkamp’s message may be earnest and heartfelt, but his delivery comes across forced as and conspicuous.

This is just one of the problems that trouble Elysium, a film for which most critics and other cine-philes had high hopes, but have returned from screenings frustrated, bewildered and certainly dissatisfied. As for me, I liked enough elements in the movie for me to give it a generous grade of  2.5 stars, but I definitely can understand why some people really hate it. I left the screening with a bit of bewilderment for some of the writing, directing and acting choices, but will acknowledge that the movie is visually stunning, has a few thrilling action sequences and has a lead actor in Matt Damon who absolutely shines in his role.

Damon portrays Max, a paroled convict and factory worker living in the dystopian waste land that is Earth in the year 2154. The rich and powerful have left the planet and reside in the nearby space station Elysium.  Elysium is a state of the art facility that recreates the most ideal climate and geographic conditions of Earth for the most comfortable living possible. Citizens of Elysium receive the best healthcare available with technology that can cure just about any disease in existence. All the while, the impoverished toil and suffer in the harsh conditions of Earth and have access to substandard medical care.

When an on the job accident leaves Matt weak and on the verge of the death, he desperately seeks passage to Elysium through an illegal smuggler who goes by the name Spider (Wagner Moura).  In the process of stealing a citizen’s identity, Max catches the attention of Elysium’s defense secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) indicating that he may have stolen much more than originally planned.  The secretary calls the cold and psychotic Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to handle the matter.

Copley, who amazed audiences with his portrayal of Wikus van der Merwe in District 9, has some golden moments as the wicked and villainous Kruger, but has a few silly and laughable ones as well. Copley, without a doubt, can pull off psycho villainy, but pushes it too far in a few scenes.  His heavy accent often makes some of his lines undecipherable and this usually happens in his over-the-top scenes.  Another accent problem in the movie comes from Jodie Foster’s butchering of what is supposed to be a French accent.

One thing is to have a natural accent which impedes speech somewhat, but to use an unnecessary affected manner of speaking is ridiculous. Foster’s performance alone comes across as forced, so adding an artificial sounding dialect on top of that makes her acting so much worse. I expected more from this uber-talented actress. Because the acting of Copley and Foster are of the forced and over-the-top varieties, it doesn’t surprise me that Wagner Moura’s performance as Spider falls into these categories as well. To me this indicates poor directing and editing choices. Surprisingly and thankfully, Damon nails his role as Max.  Without a strong and solid lead actor and character, this film would have been one step closer to completely falling apart.

It is heart and sincerity which makes me like this movie a little. Blomkamp’s heart is in the right place, but love seems to cloud his judgment and logic in his writing and directing.  This lack of logic plagues the development of story and characters, filling the plot with as much holes as Swiss cheese. I may not completely hate Elysium, but I am quite frustrated with it. Everyone has had that one friend or family member that has a penchant for causing anger or aggravation, though his or her heart is in the right place. That is what Elysium is to me.

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