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The Filmaholic Reviews: Elysium (2013)

Posted on the 13 August 2013 by Filmaholic Reviews @FilmaholicRvews
The Filmaholic Reviews: Elysium (2013)
The Lowdown: Original, high-concept sci-fi makes a welcome return to cinemas with Elysium. While visually-stunning, those wanting food for thought may not be as fully satisfied as they thought. Elysium is a good film, but had the potential to be great.
1. The Plot: The year is 2154. Earth has been ravaged by overpopulation, poverty, crime, and disease. The super wealthy and privileged have all relocated to Elysium, a paradise in the sky where crime and disease simply don’t exist. In fact, every household on Elysium has a med-bay, a device which cures all ailments in an instant. Also, no one except for the rich and privileged are even allowed on Elysium; those that try to illegally enter Elysium are shot down. The social commentary should be obvious by this point. Max (Matt Damon) is a man on Earth who has dreamt of going to Elysium all of his life, even though he is just a lowly industrial worker. One day, an accident at the factory leaves him with only five days to live, and his only option to save himself is to go to Elysium and use a med-bay. Naturally, getting there won’t be easy thanks to Delacourt (Jodie Foster), Elysium’s icy Secretary of Defense and her psychotic, violent minion Kruger (Sharlto Copley). Also, Max’s childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter become endangered as a result of Max’s plot to reach Elysium. Will Max be able to save Frey, himself, and the entire population of Earth?
2. The Characters:    Matt Damon (The Departed) is Max, the hero of the story. Apparently, in the future, Los Angeles has become a massive, crime-infested, Hispanic-populated ghetto that resembles Mega-City One from Dredd. Yet, Max is seemingly the only Caucasian person in Los Angeles. Even though Damon speaks some Spanish in the film, it doesn’t take much to realize that he doesn’t fit in at all. How about having the hero of the film be a Hispanic person? I don’t know, maybe Matt Damon was a bigger box office draw. His performance is adequate, but far from his best work. The Filmaholic Reviews: Elysium (2013)

   In contrast, almost all of the inhabitants of Elysium are rich, white people. Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs) turns in a chilling performance as Delacourt, the super-evil Secretary of Defense who shoots down illegal immigrants trying to enter Elysium. She actually plots a coup with the help of John Carlyle (William Fichtner), a slimy corporate businessman because she apparently feels that strongly about maintaining the all-rich-and-white-and-stuffy status quo on Elysium.

The Filmaholic Reviews: Elysium (2013)

She might as well be wearing a sign that says "I AM EVIL".

   To help her carry out her task, Delacourt has a covert henchman on Earth called Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley (District 9). Kruger is grizzled, nasty, and violent, and is played so intensely by Copley that he becomes truly frightening. Copley’s epic overacting performance here is arguably the highlight of the entire film.

The Filmaholic Reviews: Elysium (2013)

See previous caption. 

   On the lower end of things is Frey, played by Alice Braga. Frey is relegated to being the damsel-in-distress because the movie requires a damsel in distress. One could say that the film needed a bit of an emotional core, but there is little chemistry between Max and Frey. We don’t feel that they were childhood friends; instead, we have to be told about it. Later in the film however, during the climactic chases and fight scenes, Frey is little more than wallpaper. This isn’t to say that Braga’s performance was bad, because it wasn’t. It’s just that the screenplay didn’t give her character much to do.
3. The Aesthetics:    If anything, Elysium has great visuals. Neill Blomkamp seemingly cribs from District 9and Dredd with his portrayal of Los Angeles in 2154. Decaying homes and skyscrapers make up the entire city. The skyscrapers resemble the massive apartment complexes from Dredd. Other locations such as junkyards recall imagery from Blomkamp’s District 9. Everything has a washed-out, desert-like appearance, and everything seems to be covered with a fine layer of dust. A nice touch are the plumes of smoke from fires burning, as well as the sounds of gunshots and police sirens all throughout the city to give a sense of the widespread decay of society.

The Filmaholic Reviews: Elysium (2013)

Seriously though, it looks just like Mega-City One from Dredd

   On the other hand, Elysium is pretty much an ideal paradise. Compared to the dusty, crumbling buildings and sandy roads in Los Angeles, Elysium is comprised entirely of mansions, pools, and lush greenery. Even the interiors of the buildings in Elysium are shiny, white, and spotless. Instead of hobos huddling around oil drum fires, wealthy socialites sip champagne and munch on hors d’oeuvre. Talk about stark contrast.
4. Stark Contrast:   Science fiction is often used as an allegory for something. Just ask Philip K. Dick, whose stories inspired such high-concept sci-fi films like Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall. Science fiction enables the imagination to run wild, creating new technologies and shaping new civilizations for the better. Of course, there’s no such thing as perfection, and the utopia dissolves into a dystopia once someone asks “What’s the catch?”

The Filmaholic Reviews: Elysium (2013)

Hint: Proportions aren't equal. 

   Elysium is a utopia, that is, if one is super wealthy and spits on the “undesirable” lower classes. The citizens of Elysium are all portrayed as robotic, snobby, self-centered a-holes instead of as human beings. “Don’t breathe on me,” is uttered by Carlyle as he watches Max dying in a medical ward. On Earth, where apparently everyone lives in a dusty, crime-infested ghetto, humanity shines through more; the people may not all be angels, but they all know what’s right and what’s wrong, dammit! Heck, even Spider (Wagner Moura), the biggest crime boss in L.A., is a genius computer hacker who ends up going to Elysium and using his skills for the good of the world.    Basically, part of what has turned some people off of Elysiumis the fact that the metaphors for class conflict and health care are so blunt and obvious, yet not explored as heavily as they could have been. Being blunt about it isn’t the big issue here. The film effectively gets the point across in a basic enough manner for the masses, but plenty of issues go completely ignored. For instance, if Elysium contains all of the world’s wealthiest people, then who governs the nations of the world and maintains order? Judge Dredd? What’s going on in the rest of the world, or is all of the landmass of Earth now “Los Angeles”?

The Filmaholic Reviews: Elysium (2013)

A.k.a. "Mega-City One".

   The film’s ending also opens up plenty of questions regarding the future of Earth and Elysium, though perhaps that’s meant to stimulate conversation with your friends when you’re driving home from the theater. And if the film is meant to be an allegory for the current state of affairs, then perhaps it will be interesting to see how reality plays out.
The Bottom Line: Elysium is not a great film, but original, high-concept sci-fi usually makes for thrilling and sometimes deep cinema. Films like Inception and Prometheus draw us in with gorgeous visuals, and films like Blade Runner and Dark City provide brain food for the thinking man. Elysium falls somewhere in the middle; it has great visuals, but none that feel incredibly inspired, and the story falls a bit short in meaning. Still, for what it’s worth, Elysium is worth checking out because unlike so many films out in theaters now, it is something original.
Elysiumis property of TriStar Pictures, Media Rights Capital, and QED International. This review was written by me.
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Copyright © Filmaholic Reviews, 2013

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