Sunday, August 11, 2013

BOP Review: Elysium

So I saw ELYSIUM the other day. Before going in, I had read some dismissive reviews that seemed a little hypercritical.  The consensus seemed to be that ELYSIUM didn’t come close to touching DISTRICT 9. I hate the idea of judging this film off of its predecessor, considering these movies are not connected story-wise.


That said I went into the movie with tempered expectations. I still left the theater feeling underwhelmed.


Don’t get me wrong, the movie has some very strong aspects to it. Blomkamp nails the visual effects integration, making the robots and shuttles feel authentic and worn in. Sharlto Copley, as usual, is wonderful. His deranged special ops agent Kruger is fascinating to watch. Whatever problems the film has, I can faze them out when he is on screen. Kruger is threatening, scary, funny, badass, and detestable all at once. Copley’s energy gives the film a spark that it sorely lacks whenever he isn’t present. The designs are also spectacular. From the weapons to the graffiti-covered parole officer robot, everything is a treat to look at… when you can focus on it. 


DISTRICT 9 offered some pretense for its heavy use of shaky cam footage with the idea that the film was partly a documentary exposing MNU’s illegal acts. Here, Blomkamp seemed unsure of his style. Some shots are filled with frantic camera bouncing intermixed with steady slo-mo shots and jumbled close-ups. It doesn’t seem like there was a cohesive strategy to the cinematography. At times, it was tricky to grasp everything. I’m sure I’ll better appreciate the look of the film once it hits blu-ray and I can absorb it all on a small screen.


The characters, outside of Kruger, are flat. The protagonist, Max, is a yet another hero predestined to be a savior. The opening flashback, which is played several points throughout the film to really, really pound it in, features a nun telling Max he’s special and it’s his fate to do something big. But Max never feels that special. He’s determined, cynical, and a smart-ass. Besides that, there doesn’t seem like much to him. He’s an everyman with a checkered past. He’s good deep down, but he’s done some bad things. Characters say he used to be a legend when he was a criminal, but the film doesn’t do much to show the character as being exceptional. Still, Matt Damon gives the role a solid effort and prevents Max from being a total waster. There’s just not enough in the script to make the character fresh or engaging. Sitting in the theater, I found myself waiting for Kruger to pop up. 


And let’s not spend much time on the story. The overall concept is timely – the gap between the rich and the poor has become so large that the parties actually exist on different worlds. The poor get the grimy, dilapidated remains of Earth and the wealthy get to live on the paradise-in-space Elysium. Once the technobabble about brain data synchronization and system rebooting scripts comes into play, though, the core theme stalls out. The rich are bad, the poor should be treated less like cattle, and magic heal-everything machines should be shared with everyone. There are some neat concepts in ELYSIUM, but none of them are fully developed. It’s a shame the film uses its political subtext as a backdrop, rather than something to be explored.


Altogether, ELYSIUM can be seen as a sophomore slump for Blomkamp. It’s a middling effort with some great moments that make the rough spots feel extra frustrating. 

- Cody