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Elysium - Movie Review

3 stars

The convincing “downtrodden” world of District 9 is echoed.  Liberal ideas of “Free Health Care for all” is the message its good guys send.  More liberal ideas regarding immigration laws are defended by its bad guys.  Yet, it fails to make a substantial impact both with its characters and its story.  What is it?  It’s a place called Elysium and – as pretty as it is – it’s just another action vehicle in which the characters of Mad Max meet the steely justice of Matt Damon as Robocop.

Having previously loved writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, it pains me to say that his follow-up – appearing a lengthy four years later – is saved by its special effects and not its message.  This is a good “idea” movie that, while interesting, just barely makes the grade.  Fans of District 9 should lower their expectations.  Elysium is not a thinking man’s science fiction offering.  It’s also, sadly, not as impressive.  It’s an action heavy piece – with a healthy amount of gore - that combines cool slo-mo effects and “hulked out” exo-skeletons with a gigantic ELYSIUM IS AMERICA metaphor.

Elysium is a space station for the elite of the world that hovers – like a Kubrick-designed satellite – above a very polluted and very poor earth.  The people left below have it to look up to every single day.  They harness their ambitions to its circular shape and dream to someday illegally hop a flight to the station and receive all-curing free health care before being returned to the slums.  It’s a great idea that never fully resonates due to a sadly simplistic script that treats subtext like a hammer treats a nail.

Max De Costa (Matt Damon), an ex-con in 2154 Los Angeles, wants a better life for himself and his old flame Frey (Alice Braga) who is caring for her leukemia-stricken daughter but when a freak radiation accident leaves him with only five days to live, he finds his life forever altered.  In order to cure himself and his friend, he must go toe-to-toe with Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her sleeper agent thug Kruger (Sharlto Copley) while wrestling a plan to reprogram Elysium from Armadyne head John Carlyle (William Fichtner).

Foster gets to wear Hillary Clinton-inspired pantsuits and speak with a French accent, Damon switches between English and Spanish languages while kicking ass with cool guns, and Copley gets to out-ham everybody with thick Dutch growls and cartoonish bad guy vibes.  Elysium – even with its call to arms message for the 99% - remains unfortunately grounded by storytelling that is as heavy-handed as its characters in which maudlin flashbacks provide the only motivation.

Now that I’ve lowered your expectations, what’s left?  Well, to its credit, Elysium has enough carnage and bloody body explosions to keep the similar Johnny Mnemonic vibes from interfering in its action.  The neon grime is in-your-face and the film presents – with its slick effects – really cool ways to “off” people.  While it never reaches the heights of the mayhem in District 9, Elysium will keep your eyes on the screen as an outfitted Damon takes on an outfitted Copley upon a catwalk…with a machete.

Bloomkamp claims he had complete creative control but – having gone to Hollywood to get backing and being aware of his pessimistic outlook on our future – Elysium feels incomplete…like some part of the story is missing.  I’m not suggesting there is a bigger story here but the static characters largely lack motivation and – other than Damon – aren’t fully fleshed out.  Gangland guru Spider (Wagner Moura) barely exists and, yet, he becomes a main player in the final moments.

Metropolis it isn’t.  It would be hard to believe that Bloomkamp didn’t take some inspiration from Fritz Lang here.  Yet, unlike that masterpiece of film and science fiction, it’s tacked on emotional beats take second stage to savage brute force time and time again.  There’s also a lot of flash and bang camerawork designed to dazzle us and keep us from exploring the bigger themes in this troubling world.

Elysium is a slick-looking place to visit but – due to its routine close calls and slushy sentimentality - never a place you’ll want to stay.[/tab]

[tab title="Film Details"]

Elysium - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.
109 mins.
: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon; Jodie Foster; Sharlto Copley; William Fichtner
: Action | Sci-fi | Thriller
Memorable Movie Quote: "Three undocumented ships are approaching Elysium airspace."
Sony Pictures Releasing
Official Site: www.itsbetterupthere.com/site
Release Date: August 9, 2013
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

Synopsis: In the year 2159, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the planet’s crime and poverty, and they critically need the state-of-the-art medical care available on Elysium – but some in Elysium will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve their citizens’ luxurious lifestyle. The only man with the chance bring equality to these worlds is Max (Matt Damon), an ordinary guy in desperate need to get to Elysium. With his life hanging in the balance, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission – one that pits him against Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her hard-line forces – but if he succeeds, he could save not only his own life, but millions of people on Earth as well.[/tab]

[tab title="Blu-ray Review"]

No details available.[/tab]

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