“… while it isn’t better than District 9, it is still better than a lot of the action movies released today.”
Yesterday I continued my mission of watching movies that I really want to see, but never got around to it, by watching Elysium. I have been a fan of Neill Blomkamp (the writer/ director) ever since I watched District 9, which incidentally I didn’t watch until Elysium was already in theatres. Elysium is a movie about the world, and how completely shitty it gets in the future. It gets so shitty in fact, that all of the rich people on earth decide to build a fancy space station and live there for the rest of their lives and let all of the poor people die on the shithole that is now planet earth. The movie then follows Max (Matt Damon) who will stop at nothing to get to Elysium and use one of their fancy ‘heal-all’ machines, after he suffers a life threatening injury from his work. Elysium is a pretty great action movie with a story that is different enough to keep you interested throughout. It’s weird, when Elysium was coming out, I was very excited to see it but didn’t manage to get to the theatre on opening weekend. After that, the reviews started coming out that the movie wasn’t very good so I decided to wait for the Blu Ray, and then I forgot about it until yesterday. Honestly, I’m surprised that the movie got so much flak when it came out because, while it isn’t better than District 9, it is still better than a lot of the action movies released today.
The first thing I have to talk about is the immense world building that goes into Blomkamp’s movies. I still haven’t seen Chappie (though it is on my ‘to watch’ list), but I assume it will be just as in-depth as his other two films. Just like was seen in District 9, Elysium offers a world that could very well be the future of our world today. I’m not going to start preaching about the planet and shit, I’m talking about everything else. Elysium is a world where human lives have become less valuable than their robot counterparts, which leaves almost everyone out of a job except for people willing to do some really crazy shit. The unemployment rate adds to the crime rate that is then shown in the movie. Another thing that I found interesting is that the movie takes place in Los Angeles, but almost everyone speaks Spanish, or with a spanish accent. This is another thing we are seeing become more prevalent, especially in the southern United States. And of course it isn’t just the average stuff, it is the small details that make the world feel real. For example, one of the rich guys has a spaceship that is made by Bugatti. Some may call that product placement, but it is something that is very much a realistic image for a time when space ships are the new super cars (can you imagine what Top Gear would be like?). Another thing that helped make the world feel real was the use of practical, and very well done digital, effects. One scene in particular stood out to me, and that is when Max goes to see his parole officer. What he is met with is a very archaic robot that looks like a wind up toy from the fifties. It could have just as easily been one of the CGI robots from before with a different chip in it, but that wouldn’t make sense. Why have a really expensive robot be a desk jockey when a tin can will do the trick. Those are the little details that I absolutely love about Elysium, and honestly it reminds me of classic sci-fi movies like Total Recall. To go hand in hand with the practical effects, the CGI was immaculate. I don’t think there was one time where I didn’t believe what I was seeing was real. And it seems like the weapon of choice for the world of Elysium is ‘whatever blows up’ because people get blown up left, right, and centre in this movie. But every time it looked great* (*absolutely disgusting). I think part of what makes his effects so good, is Blomkamp rarely opts for the steady cam in his shots. What you will find instead is a more natural “shaky-cam” which helps hide the CGI. Unfortunately, this shaky-cam led to a downfall in the first fight scene in the movie. What you can see, or rather what you should be able to see is a man fighting a robot. That however is completely obscured by the camera movements and the quick cuts. There were a few more instances of really shaky camerawork during fights, but never to the extent of the first fight, which left me confused. Other than that I would say that the camerawork was beautiful. There are a couple of shots that stand out to me in particular, one being the use of a third- person (over the shoulder) shot of Max, and the other being a half-bullet time (camera spins around a person) shot that was used during one of the later fights.
I guess now all there is left to talk about is the writing. As I mentioned before, Elysium is an action movie with a story that is interesting enough to keep you entertained, that being said the story doesn’t have a lot of substance to it. Really, what I explained in my plot synopsis is what you get, the rest being the “world building” aspects such as characters and environment. That is not a bad thing, I just wish there was a little bit more for me to bite into. The characters, for the most part, were fantastically written as well. The stand out being Sharlto Copley, who plays a sleeper agent for Elysium who has a less than clear code of ethics. Honestly, Copley plays one of the better villains on screen of the past decade in my opinion. Every time he was on screen he made my skin crawl. Unfortunately there were some characters who just weren’t there for me. Max, the lead, was one of them. Max was a very two dimensional character, with his only goal being to survive. That wouldn’t have been a problem if there wasn’t all of this emotional backstory that was set up for him. And honestly, it looked like Matt Damon just wanted the pay check based on his acting in Elysium. I’m not sure if that is a prestige thing (Blomkamp not wanting to correct a high-calibre actor like Damon), or a ‘I just want to be done filming, let’s only do one take’ thing. Another character who I had a problem with was Secretary Rhodes, who was portrayed by Jodie Foster. Secretary Rhodes is the secretary of defence for Elysium, so she is essentially the ‘mastermind’ keeping poor people out of Elysium. And honestly, it’s not that the character was bad, it was just weird to watch. It was almost like watching a robot who had taken over Jodie Fosters body and then realized that it has to go to work so people don’t start wondering where Jodie Foster is (Jodie Foster the Actress, not the character she plays). Honestly, this may have been a character trait with the ultra rich people because the dude who drove the Bugatti spaceship that I mentioned before, also acted weird almost like he was part robot. That was never explained in the movie, so I’m just going to chalk it up to ‘a fucking weird choice for those characters’ in my brain. One of the last problems I had with the movie were the accents. I mentioned that It seemed realistic that in L.A. everyone speaks Spanish in the future, and I stand by that point, but why didn’t Max have an accent. We are shown Max as being a little boy, no more than 8, living in an orphanage run by Spanish speaking Nuns. Add that to literally everyone around him speaking Spanish/ with an accent and I find it very hard to believe that he speaks with his Matt Damon voice still. Maybe I’m just a complete idiot, and accents aren’t contagious, or I’m right and it was Matt Damon refusing to be anyone other than Matt Damon, either way it felt out of place. Another bone to pick on the accent front: where the fuck was Sharlto Copley’s character from? I know Copley himself is South African, but it seems like his accent shifts around a hell of a lot during the movie. That’s not completely a bad thing, it was just a little confusing (and always hilarious). The last accent related problem I have is with the woman herself, Jodie Foster. First of all, it sounds like all of her lines are ADR, and second of all, her accent is all the fuck over the place. Seriously she starts out British, but then it is more of a South African thing so maybe I misheard her, but then it is American, then back to British, then French out of fucking nowhere, then back to kind of South African. That one I have a problem with. Couple that with the fact that she is a weird character to begin with (as previously mentioned) and you get an absolute mess. And I originally thought that Elysium was going for that ‘the Earth is so evolved that everyone speaks the same language and so the accent is a combination of all accents’ but then why was Jodie Foster the only one who spoke like that? It was almost like she had a stroke every couple of scenes. The last problem I had with the movie is only minor, and it is story related so I will talk about it after I give my rating.
Overall Elysium is a kick-ass action movie, with a very detailed world, but unfortunately it falls short on both the story, and some of the characters.
I give Elysium a B
THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ELYSIUM. DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE.
The one thing that bothered me about the story is why the fuck didn’t the rich people just send down just one of the magic healing machines? They had a bunch of ambulances filled with them at the end of the movie, but they only really needed one if they still wanted be assholes. The healing machines are literally the only reason people want to go to Elysium, so if the rich people are sick of poor people trying to come into their clubhouse, just give them what they want. And like I said, they only had to send down one, at the very least. I mean, didn’t people come from around the country to hang out with Jesus and get him to heal them? They could do the same with the magic machine. Before the movie ended, I thought to myself that they could send down like five machines (one for each major continent) and then they wouldn’t be bothered. But at the end of the movie, you see that they had spaceship ambulances, each with like ten machines in them. Why the fuck wouldn’t they just send one of those down? People would stop fucking bothering them. It just bugged me that for the most part, the rich people seems smart, but then there is a glaring issue like that and it goes against that character trait and makes them seem like idiots.