6.15 out of 10
“Elysium” is the latest film by writer/director Neill Blomkamp and every frame has his signature style. The film is a visual work of art, just like “District 9” (review link). Along the lines of that earlier film, “Elysium” is packed full of obvious, heavy-handed political messages. This time around the message is focused on immigration issues. By the end of the film you are very clear which side of the fence Blomkamp is on. Setting that aside, the film may look great, but it is full of plot holes that put a real emphasis on the “fiction” part of “science fiction”. Perhaps Blomkamp should have focused a bit more on the continuity of the story and less on his political message.
“Elysium” is an average sci-fi film with gorgeous visuals and a decent story, but it gets bogged down by politics and plot holes.
Any spoilers will be clearly marked so you can avoid reading them if you so choose.
“Elysium” opens in Baltimore on August 9, 2013.
Blomkamp definitely has an eye for great visuals. His films to date have been very beautiful in their grittiness and destitution. It takes a special type of director to make these scenes look so great. You really do get a sense of “being there”. But, Blomkamp doesn’t stop there. His scenes on Elysium are equally impressive and directly contrast the settings on Earth. He really did pull off the vast differences between these two classes and everything looked very real.
“Elysium” is an entertaining film. The story is interesting. The characters are dynamic enough to establish a basic connection. The visuals are fantastic and there are plenty of really well done action scenes. Many sci-fi films rely on expository dialogue and special effects to drive the story. “Elysium” manages to do this through action. There were a number of scenes where I could not make out the dialogue due to accents or bad audio mixing, but I never felt like I missed anything. The action of the characters filled me in. This is not easy to pull off, but Blomkamp told nearly his whole story this way.
Matt Damon played the lead character, Max, and he did a good job with the role. Since the film is driven by action and not character development, there was only so much he could do. Damon managed to use a lot of body language and facial expressions to show many sides of Max without deep dialogue. The rest of the cast is serviceable. None of the performances are memorable, but that again goes back to the style of the film. We were never meant to get too involved in their lives. We were merely to observe.
I have no problem with films having political agendas. Filmmaking is an art form and many forms of art express the artist’s feelings and opinions. I actually really loved “District 9” and that had a pretty clear political message as well. So, that fact alone is not why the politics became a problem. The problem arose when the message got a little too “in your face”. These messages can have much bigger impacts when they are subtle. The audience can walk away agreeing with your viewpoint and not even realizing it. When the message is so blatant it tends to become more like a politician’s campaign ad, so annoying that you tune it out. “Elysium” is much more like the latter and could have been amazing if it was more like the former.
Sci-fi pretty much always suffers from plot holes. When filmmakers try to blend real science with fiction things are not always going to line up or make logical sense. So, we have come to accept this and give films the benefit of the doubt. We overlook a few minor issues as long as the story is solid and the film is good. Well, “Elysium” has some big holes and issues that are just too much to bear. I will point out a few below in the spoiler section.
This one just blew my mind. We are in the middle of the 22nd century and rich people are living on a luxury space station above the Earth. We have weapons that can shoot lasers through walls and machines that can literally heal anything – well maybe not if you are blown into a million pieces. But, for some unknown reason, they built Elysium with no defense system to shoot down unauthorized spacecraft. I believe Blomkamp did this on purpose to keep his analogy of current U.S. immigration intact. There are many ways for aliens to sneak into this country, so I guess he needed Earth aliens to be able to sneak onto Elysium. Sorry. Not buying it in a world with all this technology.
Where are all the darn robots? Max works in a robot factory and they are pumping out hundreds, or thousands a day. Elysium is full of servant robots. Earth is full of police robots. High ranking officials have bodyguard robots while they are on Earth. So, where in the blue blazes are all the security robots on Elysium? Max and his pals are running all over the place blowing stuff up and not a single robot shows up to try to stop them. They didn’t even have any guarding the armory!
What was Kruger’s (Sharlto Copley) motivation to help Delacourt (Jodie Foster) by doing her dirty work on Earth? They mentioned he was a criminal so a simple solution would be one line, “Remember, Kruger, you do what I say or it’s life in prison.” But, no, we get no explanation as to why he is so gung ho to help her. As a matter of fact, his motivation is too over-the-top. Any man on that kind of mission needs enough of a back story to believe it.
The Bottom Line
Blomkamp spent way too much time beating the audience over the head with his political message. The story and continuity of this interesting film suffered for it. The plot holes were large and all over the place. Although the story was carried by the action, which is tough to do, the characters turned out to be a little too shallow. To send his message home, Blomkamp needed the audience to really feel like they were going through this struggle with these people on screen. Instead, we felt like we were simply watching it on the news. “Elysium” could have been great. A little shift in focus could have turned this one into another great film to go with “District 9”. Sadly, “Elysium” will go down as just another average sci-fi film that you may leave on the TV if you come across it while flipping channels a couple years from now.