FlixChatter Review: ELYSIUM

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As a big fan of District 9, I had been looking forward to this for some time. I erroneously thought this was the follow-up to Neill Blomkamp‘s sci-fi thriller set in South Africa when I did this post but by the time the trailer came out, obviously this is an original story that doesn’t involve aliens from another planet.

This sci-fi fantasy takes place in 2154, where the gap between haves and the have-nots have reached astronomical proportion. 99% of humanity’s population are still slumming in a ‘diseased, polluted and vastly overpopulated’ earth, whilst the 1% of the elite and wealthy folks live in the lush and green ELYSIUM. It’s the ultimate ‘gated community’ aboard a lavish space-station where every mansion is complete with robotic servants and magical medical beds that can heal ANY ailments, yes including cancer and a full facial reconstruction surgery in a matter of seconds! Ok, so there’s no superhero in this movie but heck, who needs one when you’ve got a SUPER healing mechanism at your beck and call. Unfortunately, the machine only works if you’re a citizen, and Elysium’s border patrol is equipped with rockets ready to fire at illegal aircrafts entering its airspace.

ElysiumVsEarth
Elysium VS Earth – It’s definitely better up there!

Matt Damon plays a down-on-his-luck Max, a parolee who’s dreamed of leaving in Elysium ever since he was a little boy living in an orphanage. There’s one comedic moment in the entire movie where Max had to see a mechanized parole officer, as the rest of the law officers and other service workers are in the form of robots. Things just gets bad to worse when Max gets exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at the factory. With only 5 days to live, he’s desperate to get to Elysium. In order to get up there, Max has to somehow download crucial information from an Elysium citizen’s brain straight to his. That’s what those exoskeleton stuff you see on the film posters are for. The surgery scene is brutal, I have to shut my eyes as metals are drilled and screwed into Max’s body as if he’s a car in auto shop. When he finally comes out of it, Max practically looks like a robot with powered metals attached all over his body and a computer implanted into the back of his head.

I enjoyed watching all the fantastical futuristic elements, and Blomkamp surely isn’t lacking imagination and ambition. What this film also lacks is subtlety, just like D-9 was an allegory for apartheid, Elysium’s political and sociological themes on class warfare, healthcare and immigration are sure to divide audiences. He cites that growing up in South Africa is the main inspiration of the class division theme in this film, and despite the seemingly obvious commentary about border security and universal healthcare, he said that there’s no political agenda here. Even the über Liberal and politically vocal star Matt Damon downplays the political overtone. I think how much those stuff bother you depending on your political views and interest. For me, this is just another big Summer thrill ride that gives us a bit more food-for-thought amidst some bombastic (literally) action sequences.

ElysiumStills

Speaking of Damon, I think he acquits himself well here though I didn’t really have as big of a emotional connection as I did with D-9’s character Wikus, who I think is a far more tragic character than Max. I also think that though Max is played out like an action hero (Bourne meets Terminator?) instead of a truly desperate and ruthless character hellbent on saving his own life at any cost. I read that Blomkamp originally wanted Eminem in the role, now I’ve never seen him act before but I wonder if he’d actually do a more convincing job. Jodie Foster as Elysium defense secretary Delacourt is distractingly awful here with her robotic acting style and absurd accent. Yes I know that Blomkamp intended the accent of Elysium residents to be an amalgam of different languages but it just makes me laugh! I wonder if having those residents speak multiple languages (like in the underrated sci-fi drama Code 46) instead of with a myriad of accents might’ve been more realistic.

It’s also too bad that Sharlto Copley is reduced to this sadistic special ops agent whose killing method of choice is blowing people up into pieces. His character can’t be more dissimilar than his debut in District 9, which proves he’s a capable actor, but his villainy role is written like a caricature.  I like the International cast here, Brazilians Wagner Moura and Alice Braga, Mexican Diego Luna, Pakistani-descent Faran Tahir, as well as veteran character actor William Fichtner made up the supporting cast.

In terms of special effects and production quality, clearly this film delivers, thanks to a much bigger budget of $100 mil. But having more money and A-list cast don’t always translate to a better film, in fact, D-9 with its uniquely organic style is still more compelling in terms of my the emotional connection I have with the protagonist. Plus, Elysium is decidedly more ‘Hollywood’ in that it’s more predictable and comes with a feel-good and simplistic ending. Yeah as if it were THAT easy to solve such an extreme class warfare. Seems that Blomkamp ends up being preoccupied packing the third half with relentless fight scenes and stuff blowing up that the finale feels rather out of sync with all the sense of realism and intriguing ideas that preceded it. At a relatively brisk 109 minutes, there’s barely room for character development either, the villains are just evil for evil’s sake with no real motivation.

Final Thoughts: Now, even though I think Elysium is a bit of a downgrade from D-9, there are still many things to appreciate. As I mentioned before, the futuristic space stuff are fun to watch and the story also gives us something to ponder even if we don’t necessarily subscribe to the idealism being presented on screen. It could’ve been a more in depth and compelling film though, alas the the typical Hollywood happy ending keeps this from being a notch above a cool Summer sci-fi escapism.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


UPVOTE please


What are your thoughts on this movie? Did you like this more or less than I did?

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58 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: ELYSIUM

  1. Ted S.

    That’s unfortunate about Foster’s role, when I read the script, I thought the same. Her character was so one dimensional and I was hoping they’d give her more to do when the film finally goes into projection, but sounds like she’s just a typical villain in a big action flick.

    Hopefully I’ll win free passes to see it at IMAX soon, I just want to watch the cool action scenes.

    1. Hi Ted! Yeah, it’s odd why they even bother to get someone of her caliber as her character is so one-note and just plain weird. It’s sad to see Copley wasted as well as he’s really a good actor despite his lack of experience. If you only want to see the cool action stuff then this is a movie for you 😀

      1. Ted S.

        It’s funny because I read behind the scenes story on EW and Neil didn’t want to cast any big named actors for this movie since he didn’t want to deal with the dramas. Somehow Foster convinced him to hire her by promising him that she won’t act like a diva on the set, Matt Damon promised the same thing. That’s rarely happened to such a young director but with this film’s not so good performance at the box office, Neil might not get the same treatment for next big film.

        I really enjoyed the script and I’m quite sure I’ll enjoy the movie. Also, I’m one of the few people who didn’t really care for District 9 so there’s a chance I’ll really like this movie. LOL.

        1. You didn’t like District 9?? 😦 Ah well, then you’ll probably like this one Ted. I’d rather see a moving story and character that I care about than great action/cool visuals, and this one has more of the latter. Yes D-9 has some really gross sequences and the violence is grittier (which I don’t usually go for), but story-wise I think it’s much stronger and has a more emotional gratification. I still hope Neill would do the sequel after this one, no A-lister needed as obviously it doesn’t translate to a better film.

          1. Ted S.

            I actually enjoyed the first half of District 9 but when the film became a shoot’em up action adventure, it lost me. Also, I didn’t like Wikus that much, he’s just a selfish a-hole whose personality changed because he didn’t have a choice.

  2. Foster’s performance was very weird. But that aside, everything else was pretty solid, in terms of the look and feel of the scientific future Blomkamp had laid out. Can’t wait to see what he has built up for us next, as it seems like he’s continuing to chose better and better material to work with, even if it his own. Good review.

    1. Yeah, and the comical accent just makes it worse! I hope he made a follow up to D-9 next, there’s such a good story in there and the ending was a cliffhanger, too. I’d like to see more of what he’d do w/ that Wikus character.

  3. Totally right there with you, Ruth. Decent, but no D9. D9 had a great story, and as you point out, Sharlto Copley had a MUCH better role in that one. You’re 100% right, he is kind of a caricature here. His accent got in my way, too. 😦

    Still, not a BAD movie I wouldn’t say. I think 3.5 is more than a fair grade 😉

    1. Hi Fogs! Nope, it ain’t D-9 by a long shot. It goes to show that bigger budget and A-list cast don’t always add up to a GREAT film. I think D-9 was compelling because the filmmaker didn’t have to resort to a ‘feel good’ story and there’s a substantial character development. No, not terrible but it could’ve been A LOT better.

  4. Hi Ruth – my discussion with Didion will occur tomorrow, but I have to agree whole-heartedly with your spot on review. I think Foster was brought in to sell tickets, and I think she showed so little because she had so little work with. If anyone was a caricature it was her Delacourt.and the Delacourt write by Blomkamp.

    1. Hi Mike! Pls send me the link to your discussion post, sorry I had to bail but the timing just isn’t possible. Funny that Foster was brought in to sell ticket as I never saw a movie because of her, ahah. But yeah, the script was already weak to begin with in terms of character. I think both villains were indeed caricatures.

  5. Okay, great review. I haven’t seen it yet, but I love Foster and Dillian and like you really loved ‘District 9’ so I had high hopes for this. Seems like everyone is giving it an above average rating; I had hopes for a unique film.

    1. Hi Cindy! I had high hopes too, as I LOVED D-9, alas it was a downgrade IMO. Unique or not is in the eye of the viewers, to me it still has something different from other post-apocalyptic sci-fis, but not nearly enough to be a classic.

  6. Very good review. Still probably a rental for me but I’m not as apprehensive about it after reading this. Visually it looks stunning. Too bad about Foster’s performance though. I’ve heard several others with that same reaction.

    1. Hi Keith! I understand your apprehension about this one, and the political message isn’t exactly subtle here. Still if you just want some cool sci-fi w/ some food for thought, this is still worth a look. Foster’s distractingly bad here, I actually laughed a few times she was on screen!

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  8. Nice write up Ruth. I’m slightly disappointed with the underwhelming reviews of this since I loved D-9 but I do still fancy checking this out. Foster’s performance sounds a little par for the course for me (obviously haven’t seen it yet). She really seems a bit overrated in my eyes.

    1. I think you might’ve a point there about Foster being overrated. I do think this isn’t a bad film per se, I just expected more. Given how heart-wrenching the ending of D-9 was, it’s a bummer that this one resort to the typical feel-good ending, way too neat and wholly unrealistic.

  9. Good thoughts Ruth. I really enjoyed D-9 and this looks very similar in many ways. I’m a little anxious to see what Blomkamp can do with a non-sci-fi script and try to dive into these divisive issues that he seems drawn to just a little more. Thanks!

    1. Hi Gene! I think there are some similar themes here than in D-9 but the execution is totally different. I don’t know if Blomkamp is up for non sci-fi stuff, but yeah I’d be curious to see it if he does. I’d also like to see a sequel to D-9 though, seems like the ending lends itself to an interesting follow-up story to the protagonist Wikus.

  10. I’m not a big fan of District 9, I was always baffled by the acclaim as for me the film was like a video game. I was actually sure Elysium is an actual sequel to that one 🙂 I don’t think I’ll see it, shame about Jodie I never would have thought she is even capable of giving a bad performance.

    1. Hi Sati! Hmmm, D-9 doesn’t feel like a video game to me, and I’m no gamer. I realize not everyone shares my appreciation for that film though. Yeah I was hoping Elysium would be a direct sequel to that but when they hired Damon I was like huh?? Well, I think Jodie gave a bad performance here but it could be how it was written. It’s too bad as she’s a strong actress.

    1. HI Iba! Well, it looks great on the big screen so if you’re into sci-fi stuff I’d say go for it. Are you a fan of D-9 I take it? This is a much more ‘Hollywood-ized’ version of a similar theme, but things are more black and white and of course you’ve got to have a hero in it that saves the day 😀

  11. Great review….and to be honest, reading this with its predictable story made me NOT want to go to the cinema. I don’t have that thing that I got after seeing a trailer and usually it’ll end up as an okay movie…however, it has Sharlto in it!!

    Does he appear a lot? you know, like Cillian in In Time. Or only in limited time? I will wait for the DVD if he only appears in such short time.

    1. Hi Nov! Well, I guess if you’re not super enthused about the story, I’d say just rent this. Sharlto has a supporting role so he’s got a decent screen time but not as much as you and I would like (I mean we wanted him for the lead role!) 😀 I also don’t think his role was written very well either, more like a caricature.

      1. Just chatted with Sharlto’s fan on twitter…I think I will give it a chance to see it in cinema. She said, it worth to see him looking buffy like that on big screen 🙂
        ….although I have a feeling it’ll be In Time all over again.

    1. Hi T! The more I think about it, I feel that I’m a bit too generous w/ my rating. I think the movie warrants 3/5 at best. Ah well, too bad as I had high hopes for Neill after D-9.

      1. See, now, I haven’t finished District 9 all the way through (there was a time it was always playing at work in the break room so watching it completely was always ruined for me and took away my interest). That being the case, I had no true expectations of Elysium. Your score works perfect to me. 🙂

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  13. You unearth some very interesting tidbits of info I wasn’t aware of. That the director wanted Eminem as the star is surprising to me. that would’ve been a risky choice to anchor such an expensive production. As far as I’m aware he hasn’t acted since 8 Mile where he played himself. If Jodie Foster’s accent was suppose to be an amalgamation of different languages, that would’ve explained a lot. It kept changing, even in the same scene. Matt Damon on the other hand was great. He really added a lot to the movie.

    1. Hi Mark! Yeah, I read that in a few articles which was a surprise to me too. But then again perhaps Eminem has the um, sensibilities Blomkamp was looking for? I dunno but he might’ve been better suited in a role that isn’t supposed to be an ‘action hero’ the way it came off in the film, for me anyway. Still Damon was good, he’s always pretty watchable.

      It’s too bad about Foster, but I was even more dismayed how they made Copley’s character to be, given how good he was in D-9 and how his character affected me emotionally.

  14. Your review pretty much confirms what I was expecting, but I do want to see it. I didn’t know Eminem was Blomkamp’s original casting choice. That would’ve been… interesting. Nice review Ruth.

  15. I’m surprised to see such a harsh review of Jodie Foster’s role in this film. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a harsh criticism of the acclaimed actress. At the same time, there is already a hint of miscast in the trailer, as she just looks out of her element.

    I’ve been reading similar reviews to yours in general. Most of them conclude that Elysium is enjoyable but not as compelling as District 9 was (can’t say I’ve seen more than 10 sci-fi action films that are better).

    As for Sharlto Copley, perhaps we should be content to see him star and lead in “Europa Report” which is also out right now.

    Nice review.

    1. Hi Niels! Sorry for the late reply. Yeah I wish Foster were better here but it is what it is. It’s too bad that a bigger budget doesn’t translate to a better film but that’s what happen when Hollywood studios meddle too much w/ the final product. I’m still keen in checking out Europa Report.

  16. I noticed how much time was spent on Earth compared to Elysium which I didn’t expect. But I did enjoy the world building in the first half hour … a day in the life of Max. I would have loved more character development like you mentioned in your review. Because of Jodie Foster’s star power and presence in the trailers, I thought she’d have more to do. Trying to place her accent distracted me. Haha. Great review Ruth!

    1. Yeah that’s interesting that they spend more time on earth but that alone doesn’t bother me. I think the film is just too idealistic (read: fanciful) for its own good to be honest. Foster’s character arc is rather pointless too.

  17. Didion of the Feminema website, and I had invited Ruth to participate in a three-way joint discussion on the film, Elysium. Ruth agreed to join us, but because of work and other scheduling conflicts, she had to drop out.

    Ruth has graciously granted permission for a link to the discussion on our sites to appear on this site.

    The Arts
    http://jmmnewaov2.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/just-back-from-elysium/

    Feminema
    http://feminema.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/can-dystopia-end-happily-a-conversation-about-elysium-2013/

    Please visit either site – same discussion – different titles – different images for our perspectives.

    Thanks
    JustMeMike
    The Arts

    1. Hi Mike! Sorry again I couldn’t join but I enjoyed the discussion post. Elysium could’ve been a lot better but hey at least it’s still thought provoking enough to spark an intelligent discussion 😀

  18. Ruth, I finally allowed myself to read your review and it’s exactly where JustMeMike and I were going … although I might have been a teeny bit more harsh than he was (I said 3 stars; he agrees with you at 3.5). Glad to see another District 9 lover out there — brilliant film.

    1. Hi Didion! Thanks for reading. I could’ve easily gone w/ 3 stars too, to be honest. I guess I enjoyed the sci-fi aspects that I still had fun w/ this movie. Yay, glad you love D-9 too, brilliant indeed. I still wish Blomkamp would do more w/ Wikus’ character.

  19. Blomkamp is an exciting director so I’m looking forward to this but it’s a shame it doesn’t look like it lives up to District 9.

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