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.

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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.

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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?

Rental Pick: CHRONICLE (2012)

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a big fan of the found-footage genre, which is often used in horror or sci-fi movies. So when this one comes around, I was only mildly interested in seeing it. But the good reviews piqued my interest and y’know what, going out of one’s comfort zone can be quite rewarding 🙂

The story is pretty straightforward, three Seattleites high school friends somehow gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery one night. It’s not fully explained how they gain these powers, but that’s beside the point. Soon, the three boys bonded over their newly-found powers, and the scenes of them discovering the powers are quite fun to watch. You sort of live vicariously through these characters, especially in the exhilarating flying sequences. Now who hasn’t wished they could fly at some point of their lives? What started out as whimsical and fun soon takes a sinister turn, however. Never has the saying ‘it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye’ been more aptly applied here.

The found-footage film-making style lends itself well to the story, as one of the main characters, Andrew, is a loner kid who seems to only communicate using his handy-cam. He’s the quintessential troubled boy who lives with his cancer-stricken mother and a disillusioned, abusive former-firefighter father. As if life at home isn’t hard enough, he’s also bullied at school. After seeing the documentary Bully, these bullying scenes are even more heartbreaking and you truly feel for this kid. His two friends however, Matt (who’s actually Andrew’s cousin) and Steve, the popular guy who’s running for school president, live seemingly problem-free lives.

So it’s no surprise that this incredible discovery affects Andrew the most. On the way home from school one day, Andrew uses his power that sends someone in the hospital. Surely anyone who’s been tailgated or harassed by a careless driver can relate to that scene, but the incident prompts Matt and Steve to enforce a ‘rule’ that they should not to use the powers whilst they’re angry or for evil purposes. For Steve and Matt, the powers are just something cool to have, a new talent they can use for fun, such as freaking people out at a toy store using their telekinetic powers.

But for Andrew, the power feeds his growing anger and resentment, and it quickly overtakes him. It doesn’t help matters that Andrew’s telekinetic abilities seems to be the strongest of the three, perhaps because he’s just naturally the most gifted out of them all, and it could be because he spends more time perfecting it. My husband likens his ability to X-Men‘s Jean Grey, who could be incredibly powerful when she puts her mind to it. Andrew also shares some similarities with another mutant with a dark past, Magneto, whose life is in turmoil following the death of his mother.

What I like about Chronicle is that the superhero theme ultimately speaks more about our humanity and moral conscience at the core. When something out of the ordinary happens to us, whether good or bad, we all have a choice in how we deal with them and those choices are what affects us and those around us, more so than the circumstance itself. The film’s sense of realism also makes the story and characters very relatable, after all these three boys are as ordinary as they come.

The script did a good job in getting us care about the characters and provides some depth that transcends beyond the gimmicks of its precarious concept. The special effects is pretty good considering its paltry $12 mil-budget, it’s nothing spectacular but does its job and serves the story well.

I’m also impressed with the performances of the relatively unknown young actors. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan have good chemistry together, and all of them have only done mostly TV projects and various small projects. DeHaan, who looks so much like a young Leonardo DiCaprio (circa This Boys Life), has the most challenging role out of the three and he’s more than up for the task.

Now, I’m not saying this is a perfect movie of course, there are quite a few plot holes about the extend of their powers and all that, not to mention the clichéd stereotypes on some of the characters. There are also some of the absurd choices some of the characters did that aggravate me, but not to the point that derail the whole movie.

The quibbles I did hear from some reviewers are that the ending seems extreme and overblown. It’s a warranted sentiment though I actually don’t mind them as the conflict has been hinted more than once. Plus, Andrew’s musings about being an ‘apex predator’ that shouldn’t feel sorry for crushing its inferior prey would inevitably lead to him doing some horrible things. I do feel that the finale is quite violent for being PG-13, that battle scenes both on the air and on the ground around the Space Needle are fierce and brutal. It’s heartbreaking to see what the powers cost each of these kids and what happens when certain powers falls into the wrong hands.

Final Thoughts: Chronicle is a pleasant surprise for me. It’s a worthy sci-fi fantasy that’s grounded in realism and has more emotional weight than meets the eye. It’s a pretty impressive achievement from director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis in their feature film debut.

4 out of 5 reels


Somehow I get a feeling this will be another polarizing movie, so if you’ve seen this, I’d love to hear what you think. If you haven’t, are you willing to give this a go?