I may have reached my robotics quota for the year. My inner sci-fi nerd can usually never get enough, but after seeing Pacific Rim, The World’s End, and Grown Ups 2 I think I may be reaching my limit. What? Grown Ups 2 wasn’t a complete cast of emotionless robots? Well I’ve had my fill of whatever that was too. After the great success of District 9, I expected writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s new film Elysium to take us out of this world, but it felt like it got shot down leaving the atmosphere.
We are thrown into another dystopian setting similar to that of District 9, but without aliens and with robot enforcers. This society has seen the collapse of the middle class and created a great divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, except this divide takes a less figurative form and a more physical one since the “haves” are living on a space habitat in the Earth’s orbit called Elysium. This Marxist cautionary tale follows the life of former criminal Max (Matt Damon) as he struggles to reform his life (and speak Spanish), win his childhood sweetheart back, and somehow make if off the planet and to Elysium. His dreams are shattered when he has an accident involving lethal doses of radiation. Unfortunately there were no spiders involved or this would have been a very different/more interesting movie. Instead, he is only left with a number of days to lives and must make it to Elysium to get healed.
To survive, he must takes some pills that seem to miraculously get rid of every symptom of radiation poisoning and let him function normally. He’s still dying of course, so to make his journey to Elysium easier, they attach and fuse some clunky, metallic apparatus that makes him harder, better, faster, and stronger. Think Robocop meets Bionic Man. This tragic tale then turns into a fast-paced, rock’em-sock’em robots style action film. This is done only to its detriment since the action sequences make you feel like you’re in a snow globe that’s being violently shaken by an agitated toddler. The jump cuts and sporadic movement leave you feeling unsure of who is winning the fights until you see who is on the floor not moving and who is walking/limping away. I’m not at all saying the fight scenes were bad, because they weren’t. Like the story, its been done to death before, but at least like District 9, it was beautiful to look at.
The cast is one of the biggest changes from Blomkamp’s previous sci-fi film. His first film was a major success because the unknown actors had to shine through with their performances and couldn’t rely too much on prior fame to sell their parts. Elysium unfortunately relies on its big name actors (Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Diego Luna, William Fichtner) to deliver parts that were lazily acted and shallowly written. You feel little to nothing for every character in the film because you never believe them. Their motivations and decisions lack genuine emotion and rationalization to the point that each actor must rely on their natural charm to even deliver a fraction of depth to the characters.
Elysium only glides when you want it to soar. It’s like an anticlimactic trip to space. Sure, the scenery is nice to look at, but when you see the stars you expect them to shine. Then your ship unexpectedly stops and you’re stuck in orbit , seeing everything you’ve already seen before, for an hour and 37 minutes.
RATING: ★★★★★(5/10 stars)
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