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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.63%
Worth A Look: 18.6%
Average: 18.6%
Pretty Bad51.16%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 19 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"Dims Blomkamp's halo a bit."
3 stars

Given its pedigree, it’d be easy to mistake Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to “District 9” for another thoughtful sci-fi allegory, especially if one only glances at its surface concerns. However, “Elysium” is more of a broad fantasy with its heart on its sleeve, which is to say it at least has a heart, even if it can’t completely compensate for its lack of brain.

Okay, maybe that’s a little bit too harsh a criticism for a film as well-intentioned as “Elysium,” which seeks to tackle income inequality, immigration, and healthcare by imagining a not-so-distant future (2154) where the Earth (as represented by a dystopian Los Angeles, anyway) has become overpopulated and polluted. As a result, society’s upper crust constructed Elysium, an elaborate space station that doubles as a gated community orbiting the Earth. Its most precious commodity is its med-pods, units that act as a literal cure-all for any disease (or even bodily mutilation). Desperate Earth-dwellers consistently try to use underground channels to board a ship to Elysium just for a chance to be cured, though their efforts are typically (and forcefully) thwarted by Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster).

Among the desperate is Max (Matt Damon), an ex-con who has turned his life around after finding steady work on an assembly line. His childhood dream of reaching Elysium becomes more immediate and anxious when he’s accidentally exposed to a lethal dose of radiation that leaves him five days to live. In order to leave the planet and obtain a cure, he makes a deal with a former criminal acquaintance (Wagner Moura) to obtain some sensitive data, and the heist intersects with Delacourt’s own secret coup of Elysium’s bureaucracy.

Despite its sometimes leaden plot and rich thematic undercurrent, “Elysium” is remarkably lean, perhaps to a fault. Blomkamp’s screenplay is thinly sketched and consistently relies on shorthands, such as portentous flashbacks to Max’s childhood, where a kindly nun intoned about his looming destiny. He’s less a character and more of a saintly vessel for the director’s gospel and pre-ordained mythology. Those surrounding him are similarly broad—Alice Braga is his childhood friend, now all grown-up as a nurse who mostly serves as a convenient plot device in that she’s both the damsel and distress and Max’s eventual conscience. And of course she has a daughter battling leukemia, just in case he needed anything else weighing on soul.

On the other hand, the bad guys are stock caricatures, with Foster occupying the mostly thankless and ultimately wasted role as the icy, callous defense secretary with a vague but sinister accent. Imagine Donald Rumsfield as a Stepford wife. To do her dirty work, she dispatches a ruthless sleeper agent played by Sharto Copley, Blomkamp’s South African revelation from “District 9,” here performing on the wholly opposite end of the spectrum. His Kruger is a katana-wielding psychopath with a facial expression perpetually stuck between a grin and a snarl. That the film eventually defaults to him is both a blessing and a curse—on the one hand, he’s certainly the most lively and colorful presence in the film, but, on the other, Foster’s character almost feels excused from the proceedings.

That’s sort of indicative of “Elysium” as a whole, as all of its socio-political musings act as window dressing for a stage that’s more preoccupied with extended chase scenes and exploding heads. Any contributions it makes to its various platforms are surface level at best and wrapped up in treacly sentiment that ultimately seems too simplistic and idealistic. Blomkamp paints in broad, black and white strokes to create a familiar portrait of saintly do-gooders clashing with bureaucratic, corporate goons (the always reliable William Fichtner stars as Max’s heartless defense contractor boss). More shorthand appears in Blomkamp’s borrowing from current headlines and terminology: Foster is the head of Homeland Security and is charged with the task of weeding out “illegal” and “undocumented” citizens. To make the connection more clear, an early horrifying sequence finds a cramped shuttle full of dingy, brown-faced “immigrants” getting blown out of space and/or cowed by robotic security guards. As was the case with “District 9,” calling “Elysium” thinly veiled would be an insult to thin veils.

Perhaps that’s to be expected from a film that reflects a childhood parable about on a hippo and a meerkat; the film’s reflection of the story doesn’t quite make sense, but that also seems appropriate given how messy “Elysium” really is. With Blomkamp at the helm, it’s a well-arranged mess, at least. The film compares favorably to “District 9” in its ability to imagine a world that’s about a half-step removed from our own. There’s a tactility to it that makes it easily believable, as if Blomkamp simply grafted his imagination onto reality to bring an appreciable weight that stands in stark relief to other, more cartoonish blockbusters (though it does seem a bit at odds with the broadness of the story itself). It’s filled out with the requisite fantasy techno-gear, such as the mechanical exoskeleton that’s welded to Max’s body to turn him into a more formidable soldier, and Elysium itself is a wonderfully antiseptic contrast to the slummy, dingy hellhole that is futuristic L.A.

Occasional shakiness aside (particularly during any of the fist-fights), “Elysium” is perfectly functional as a bone-headed, hyper-violent action movie that ultimately just feels like Verhoeven played straight. Blomkamp might also be socially conscious, but he opts for earnestness instead of irony. Such sincerity is admirable in the face of this apocalyptic summer, which has doubled as a demolition derby for the human race. Unlike, say, Joseph Kosinski, Blomkamp at least populates his painterly vistas with some semblance of humanity and heart, and Damon is dignified enough to make the film’s central sentiment palatable. “Elysium” might be a little empty-headed and manipulative, but it’s nice to see a film that’s more concerned with restoring the earth instead of destroying it, even if it takes a lot of poetic license in the process.

Perhaps we expected more than a dumb action movie from the director of “District 9,” which is reasonable enough. “Elysium” might share some obvious DNA with its predecessor, including some of its flaws (remember how “District 9” petered out after it became a standard-issue shoot-‘em-up? That’s “Elysium” in a nutshell.), but, to Blomkamp’s credit, it’s not a complete retread. Maybe that’s for better and for worse since the result is a slight, obvious sophomore slump that casts a slight pall on its director’s anointment as a genre savior.

I don’t doubt that Blomkamp will eventually ascend to such heights—there’s too much vision here even in this clunky but good-hearted stumble to deny. Like Elysium itself, true greatness lies beyond the reach of an ambitious grasp.

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originally posted: 08/10/13 16:53:03
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell not bad at all alot better than district 9 4 stars
3/04/16 Dan Does this piece of shit count as a review? Fuck. 4 stars
3/11/15 Joe This was good sci-fi with relevant social critique 4 stars
9/23/14 jeff screw the critics 5 stars
7/04/14 Terror Great old school kick ass sci if. Enjoyed it 5 stars
1/18/14 mr.mike Fantastic sci-fi flick 4.5 stars 4 stars
12/07/13 Pearl Bogdan worth watching if you are a fan of District 9 4 stars
11/26/13 terra c Great film 5 stars
11/23/13 Lord Awesome bloody action 5 stars
11/23/13 josephine Great acttion 5 stars
11/15/13 Langano Formulaic Hollywood nonsense 2 stars
10/16/13 Carl Very enjoyable flick. Copley is the MAN that guy is nuts. 4 stars
9/09/13 EL Let-down, plot and premise had a lot of potential but last 20 mins were hopelessly cliche 3 stars
9/03/13 Geraldine Interesting world-building but average in every other way 3 stars
8/27/13 Yusuf Nasrullah Ho hum....NEXT!!!! 2 stars
8/19/13 Koitus Surprised at the blood-splattering. Loved the grenade footage! ;-) 4 stars
8/15/13 Man Out Six Bucks Mexicans destroy all that's good on Earth then sail through a Mexico-size plothole 2 stars
8/11/13 Mishyana No District 9, but still a good flick. Surprising to see HB dumping on it. 4 stars
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  09-Aug-2013 (R)
  DVD: 17-Dec-2013

  21-Aug-2013 (15)

  DVD: 17-Dec-2013

Directed by
  Neill Blomkamp

Written by
  Neill Blomkamp

  Jodie Foster
  Matt Damon
  William Fichtner
  Sharlto Copley
  Wagner Moura

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