Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
You may like this if you liked: District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009), Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski, 2013), Total Recall (Len Wiseman, 2012)
The year is 2154, and earth is now an overpopulated wasteland with diminished resources. The wealthy have all now moved to a new space station called ‘Elysium’ that inside is a perfect and pristine replica of earth at its most beautiful. They also all have machines that can heal any injury and cure any disease, which is of course handy. Though many of earth’s citizens try to travel to Elysium, their ships are subsequently shot down and all on board killed. Max (Damon) is a down on his luck ex con making a basic living, but after an accident at work leaves him exposed to a lethal dose of radiation he only has days to live. His only hope of survival is to get to Elysium. Max asks for the help of a tech savvy acquaintance called Spider (Wagner Moura) who has the means to get Max to Elysium. However this is at a price that involves a dangerous mission that can not only save his life, but bring down the elitist segregation between the few wealthy and everyone else, and bring equality back to the human race.
So here we have the classically difficult ‘second album’ in that Blomkamp has to follow up a critically and commercially successful debut. We have an A list leading man, high expectations and an even higher budget, so no pressure then! I do not want to harp on about how good I thought District 9 was, but for me it took a tried and tested story and delivered it in a fresh, original and allegorical way that was utterly compelling and engaging. Well, unfortunately I found Elysium to once again take a tried and tested but potentially interesting story, but deliver it in a rather generic and flat way. Though not quite the cut and paste sci-fi of Oblivion, it is for me predominantly the same reasons which make Elysium an adequate blockbuster, but at the same a frustrating case of unrealised potential.
There is no denying that Blomkamp has an eye for visuals, and that (estimated) budget of $115milion was certainly well spent. The dystopian squalor of earth feels authentic and nasty compared to the lens flare aided shine of Elysium. Blomkamp has created two contrasting worlds that without a doubt both look the part, but throughout the narrative there is just something lacking. Also, despite being only 109 minutes in length, there are times when everything feels a little laboured, episodic and clunky. Elysium is in my view a perfectly solid, slick and enjoyable sci-fi romp that has enough to entertain, but no more.
It seems a case that Blomkamp was happy with the concept but didn’t worry too much about the story or dialogue. There is no denying that it is a good initial concept, but some of the plot developments feel a little lazy and ill thought out. I know this is a blockbuster, but there are a few too many convenient moments of the right person being around to help out Matt Damon at exactly the right time for me. This in my view takes away a little bit of the edge and overall intended feeling of intensity.
Whether the lack of edge compared to District 9 (sorry) is down to studio execs keeping Blomkamp in check we will never know. That said, a surprising 15 certificate is well and truly earned with some quite graphic violence. The action itself is well put together but has a tendency to get a little repetitive, and for me it is not until the last 30 minutes that everything truly picks up properly to create an overall compelling and engaging finale.
The often clunky and two dimensional dialogue also suggests that perhaps Blomkamp either needs to not go things alone, or once again take his time developing what is, like I said, a good concept for a film. This is definitely a script that could have done with one or two rewrites before a single scene was filmed. The often mediocre script ultimately has a detrimental effect on the characters: Matt Damon is for me a very likeable screen presence and is fine here, but his character is underwritten and a little two dimensional. The other characters feel clichéd and there more as narrative tools. Sharlto Copley is potentially menacing as a rogue agent on Damon’s tale but his character is a generic psycho baddie. I know Copley is South African, but surely that accent is a little put on? It is certainly distracting and makes him immediately seem less sinister. Jodie Foster, complete with a poorly synced bizarre accent, is not only pretty rubbish in her role, but a cut and pasted corrupt person in power. Meanwhile, William Fichtner is well, William Fichtner.
Elysium is overall in my view a slick and stylish blockbuster that is well made, but at the same time generic and uninspiring. It is most definitely worth a watch, but due to the basic narrative and failure to avoid so many clichés it will never blow anyone away.