Friday, August 9, 2013

Elysium gets Bogged Down by it's Heavy-Handed Message, and Fails to Succeed in Creating a Worthwhile Film Experience

Elysium (2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by Neil Blomkamp (District 9)
Starring: Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, and Jodie Foster

Back in 2009 District 9 was one of the most inventive films of the year, science fiction or otherwise.  Writer/Director Neil Blomkamp's District 9 subtle analogies created an original experience.  Blomkamp not only proved adept in creating tense action packed sequences, but also showed the complexity of society, and the way this effects humanity.  One of my favorite films of the year.  Four years later Blomkamp is back behind the camera, but there is something different.

In 2154 the richest people live outside the Earth on a space station named Elysium.  Life on the space station is portrayed as a Utopian experience.   On Elysium there are only mansions surrounded by palm trees, and the biggest perk is the machines in everyone's homes which cure them from disease, while they have brain function.  Life on this space station is truly paradise, even though we only "get to know" one character in this society Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Foster), who is both ruthless, and manipulative.

The focus of the film is getting to Elysium, and  Max (Damon) who hopes that one day he can take his childhood love Frey (Alex Braga) to the station.  Max lives on Earth, along with the rest of the 99 percent, which has become the third world, filled with crime, poverty, and disease .  Max ends up in a life or death situation, with some cool Aliens like attachments on his body, which forces his hand to try and get to Elysium, save himself, and potentially save society on Earth from ruin.

There is something missing in this film, and I think most of that is the originality.  It's never fair to hold up a film to a director's other work, because each film is a different passion project.  You wouldn't compare Martin Scorsese's Hugo to Taxi Driver.  Yet this is Blomkamp's second major feature, and within the same genre so the comparisons need to be made.  While District 9 felt like this cool original project, Elysium feels like a major studio induced action rush, and  been there done that experience.

The major problem within this film is in the script. Elysium has two problems running throughout this film, the cliche, and the heavy handed social message.  Without giving much away, one of the last scenes has Max talking to Frey as the tension builds, Max should should taking action but holds what seems like a five minute conversation, my eyes rolled, and I wanted to yell a the screen, there is no need to make this drag out, your doing this and the emotional impact, which should be there is not, just get to what you need to do!

The other problem is the nature in which the message is delivered, shoved down your throat.  There have been many articles that conservatives have slammed this film for being preachy on aspects like the 1%, immigration, health care, and on and on.  While agree with the direction of the message the film hands the message on shovel, and not in the right dosage. Blomkamp's direction sometimes slows down to allow audiences to get a feel for what he is attempting to say, but the rest of the time the film feels as though it's too busy trying to fire on all cylinders. I miss the days of science fiction films, when "the message" was subtle to they did not try to hard to convey several messages.  Blomkamp tries to hard to convey too much at once without letting you care about or understand the characters, and their surrounding.

While the character development was somewhat poorly done, Matt Damon is solid as Max. I think Damon is a great actor, and he was the saving grace for within this film; he knows how to carry the weight of a film like this on his shoulders, he did the same thing with Bourne.  The only problem I have with his casting is that the film highlights the diversity of Earth, in fact most of the people on Earth, are Latino/Hispanic or black, yet a white man is meant to save them all?  I can't help but roll my eyes at the thought of a film, which could have capitalized more on the the message, and rather a big name star who would live on Elysium.

I would have liked to explore more about Elysium, my guess is that Blomkamp, was highlighting that everyone was like Foster Delacourt, I hope not, with that terrible, I am guessing fake British accent.  I am never one to side with one percenters, but you can't make all of your villains so one note, and cartoonish, it will come across as shrill. Speaking of one note, and cartoonish,  Sharlto Copley who was the star of District 9 returns to work with Blomkamp in a very different role.  Copley plays Kruger an off the books mercenary who works for Delacourt.  Copley uses his South African accent, but heightened for some reason, and went way beyond the cliche villain with the mustache twirl.  Copley was excellent at the subtle if District 9, he should have probably been Oscar nominated, but his character is a mess here, and is evil for the sake of being evil, again I blame the writing more.

The problems outweigh anything good in this film, from the cartoon like villains, the heavy handed messages, and don't get me started on the story of the meerkat and the hippo told by Frey's young cancer ridden daughter. Elysium tries to be cool, and feel important in the same breath, but can't seem to figure how to do both. The film does have some cool moments, and some great bombastic action sequences, but not enough to save this from collapsing under the gravity of the weighed down message.

No comments: