Cinema-Maniac: Elysium (2013) Review

Elysium, set in the year 2154, follows Max who agrees to take on daunting mission that if successful can save his life. If you’ve seen “District 9” you also have seen “Elysium”. It’s about the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The protagonist nominally works for the overlords, but is discarded when an accident gives him a deadline on his life, and nothing left to lose. He is selfish until a child in a situation gets him thinking about others as well as himself. Taken in by hated second-class citizens, and offered a dangerous, messy form of possible salvation that involves leaving Earth and flying somewhere forbidden. Anyone who’s seen “District 9” you sadly seen how “Elysium” plays out even if the order of events are changed. That there alone is the biggest obstacle it never conquers. By copying the framework of another film both by the same director/writer creates a disconnect for the audience when that same framework is dumbed down. It’s one thing if another copy a similar framework since it’s a different interpretation, but by the same filmmaker it comes of as a more expensive remake that retread discussed themes that was better explored in his previous film. However, the biggest nail in the film coffin is it inability to stand on its own.

Filled with good ideas and a simple to understand metaphor what would have helped it imaginative world become meaningful is if any of it made sense or got developed. The world features a host of neat gadgets like explosive heating seeking discs, rocket launchers that can travel through the Earth atmosphere, organic brain data that can store data, and a medical pods that can heal any sort of disease. These are a couple of the neat gadgets created in this dystopia, but how they are incorporated into the film makes no sense. Those heat seeking explosive disks are only used once in the film despite it being made very clear how useful it is. While it’s not a plot hole it does present the world as if high class citizens were all idiots. Also, that rocket launcher that can travel through the Earth atmosphere and into space is “Elysium” defense system. Forget the idea that citizens in the slum can built ships that can travel to space. The real question is this space station for the rich can afford medical pods that heal any disease, but the most their money can buy is a guy on Earth shooting rockets into space. Clearly some corners were cut as despite in one scene four rockets being fired only three are ever shown. Elysium should really get smarter people, a defense system that best fits their needs, better equipment for its officers, and a better citizen identification system. Another neat idea that is superfluous in existence is how an organic brain can carry data similar to a computer. This brain concept is made pointless in the film as it usage of a questionable plot device makes it first action sequence pointless. If extracting data is easy as getting a wifi connection from one’s laptop it defeats the purpose for our heroes extracting that same data physically. At least these concepts while nonsensical are nowhere near as bad as some of the other plot points (Max’s radiation effect) that get dropped inexplicably.

As a storyteller there are certain and specific techniques that are used to make your audience cheer for the hero. One of the most common and abused to death in this film is giving heroes inferior technology. This is nicknamed the “Underdog Effect” as physiologically superiority can easily be tricked to be associated with pure evil. This film to no extent ever restraints itself in abusing this particular plot device since it’s much easier and quicker to make sure your heroes likable if you give them a handicap. It’s a useful device if you want to explore complicated themes and expand on your concepts, but seeing how this dystopia came to be, why still Elysium uses an id citizen system that Earth citizen have copied successfully, why those living in the slums don’t attempt to steal medical pods, what drove these people to take such drastic measure for class separation, and when did the logic die on Earth all go unanswered. However, there is a counter effect to the “Underdog Effect” if that same character is too incompetent in overcoming his ordeals. Max has a criminal background and at one point referred to as legend in the area he lives in. His skills which other characters brag about are never applied to Max. As a protagonist he’s too clumsy in his journey to be get behind surviving numerous possible deaths scenario through sheer luck, plot convenience, and one blatant deus ex machina usage when Max is on the run. When you have a character that can’t survive on his own instincts he stops being relatable and becomes a tool when his failure is used to advance the plot. By relying heavily on good luck for survivor Max is never an engaging protagonist which is bad when all of your other characters are one dimensional.

Matt Damon is mixed in the leading role. He’s never engaging because his line reading varied in scenes where it matter most. At one point Damon is serious when he wants to save a childhood friend, but completely monotone when telling a little girl to stop telling him a story. It’s a role that handicapped him severely as his facial expressions never seems to change no matter the scene. On paper it would be easy to blame the xosuit that Damon character has to wear for giving him limitation physically (especially in his movement), but disregards obtained injuries before wearing his exosuit for the film. Jodie Foster is odd in the role. Her accent is inconsistent with recorded dialogue being dubbed noticeably. She’s always emotionless which to a degree serves it purpose to hate her more, but without background neither Foster nor the audience knows who she truly is. Her role is just being someone hate is almost like if her portion of the script only had a drawing of a angry face. William Fletcher in his short screen time suffers from the issue as Jodie Foster. Fletcher is told to be display as little human emotion as possible to be hated. Sharlto Copley is energetic portraying a sociopath. His physical appearance alone tells you how much of a lunatic he is, but it is his commanding acting and wrathful voice that makes him a memorable threat. Copley is the most notable actor that overcomes weak writing. Wagner Moura shows some difficulty in saying his English lines, but is one of the few supporting actors whose efforts overcomes weak material. The few action sequences had special effect that were solid. With varied weaponry how an opponent gets taken out were all unique. However, the editing and cinematography of those action scenes are all over the place. In particular there’s a fight in the climax that has the middle of it fight cut every three second. Choreography in the fight itself is basic villain is over power, but hero overcome eventually through will power was hard to enjoy with scattershot editing. None of the set pieces flowed smoothly because of quick cut editing that made it a chore to look at and close ups that clouded what was being shown. There were several occasion where you want the camera to pull back, but generally remains to close. Neil Blomkamp vision of the future looks realistic while it characters aren’t. His world feels real and distinct when in the dirty slums on Earth to the clean and glossy looking Elysium.

Elysium has good ideas none of which are ever developed to make it message have substance. It feels more like a superficial product of dumb entertainment rather than an intellectual blockbuster it wanted to be. The plot makes no sense and with no developed characters to gravitate towards its message never gets taken to the heart. Visually Blomkamp created a visually realistic future at the cost of any logic behind it. For anyone who seen “District 9” it’ll come off as a sloppy remake and anyone who never seen “District 9” will find it ideas intriguing, but without much substance behind them there’s hardly a reason to become engaged in what emotions and thoughts it’s trying to get across.


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