Film Review

Film title
Neill Blomkamp
Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Wagner Moura, Diego Luna, William Fichtner
Release date
21 Aug


2/5 stars
Film review by Josh Slater-Williams.
Published 22 August 2013

South Africa-set District 9 had a clear apartheid allegory built into its hyper-violent sci-fi stylings, and writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up film is similarly concerned with social commentary, this time to do with accessible healthcare and immigration. District 9 wasn’t subtle, but the solemn Elysium is even more thinly veiled and oppressive with its socialist slant; it also proves a much weaker film overall.

In the mid-22nd century, overpopulation, deforestation and all that miserable stuff has seen the super-rich vacate our planet for a floating space station called Elysium, where they enjoy such benefits as medical machines that instantly repair all damage to one’s body. Among the downtrodden souls left down on Earth is LA criminal-gone-straight Max (a solid Damon), who suffers a mishap that sees him desperately needing to reach Elysium for that precious medical assistance. Further complications see him clashing with the space-base’s scheming Secretary of Defence (a bafflingly terrible Foster) and a tyrannical, psychopath mercenary (an incomprehensible Copley).

This is a film with potentially interesting ideas undone by underdeveloped world building. In a frantic rush to cram as much narrative as possible into 109 minutes, far too many of this dystopia’s important attributes fail to receive full clarification, while the one-dimensionality of everything, particularly that of every antagonist, undermines investment in the story. For all its attempted scope it also feels strangely insular; we never find out how Earth is doing outside of Los Angeles, nor do we even get to see very much of the workings of Elysium itself.

To its credit, the film is stellar in regards to its special effects and art direction, and certain action sequences have a potent physicality. Close-up fights, though, often prove unintelligible; District 9’s shaky-cam technique is carried over, but it at least made sense there with that effort’s faux-documentary elements. The spectacle ends up suffering – another problem for a film that, free of exploring its concepts with any depth, is ultimately little more than great production design for a world undefined.

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  • "The spectacle ends up suffering – another problem for a film that, free of exploring its concepts with any depth, is ultimately little more than great production design for a world undefined."

    This is actually what I enjoyed about the movie. It was imperfect. I find that in itself refreshing. Everything from the scrappy fights with guns jamming, the flawed personalities, Max acting erratically and selfishly and even how in the end his entire plan was far from perfectly planned and the end result almost just fell into place by chance.

    I'm also very glad that it didn't attempt to go deep into the social issues that it touched upon, since it most likely would have just ended up being too cliche'. (If I really wanted to gain deep insights into such social issues I'll study politics, economics, join a debate team & perhaps chat to academics about it, I certainly wouldn't watch a hollywood movie expecting to somehow come away with deep insights).

    Ultimately this movie is an action sci-fi that follows the lead character Max, it revolves around him and his frantic struggle to save his life whilst very mildly touching on issues such as corruption, the industrial-military complex, class-devide etc (note how these aren't new issues) but only doing so to set the atmosphere / environment of the world and to allow Max's story & behaviour to seem tangible.

    Overall, I watched this movie and I enjoyed it very much. I just feel perhaps some people expect to much from movies these days! :-) Perhaps I'm just easy to please when it comes to the arts of cinematography.

    Posted by Bob | Friday 23 August 2013 @ 09:19

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  • I'm assuming you didn't much like Blade Runner either. Oh well. To each his own.

    Posted by Steve Michener | Sunday 01 September 2013 @ 20:23

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  • To be fair, Bladerunner did suffer from too much narrative. All that time wasted on fruity dream-sequences could have easily been spent on an explosive, high-octane flying-police-car chase.
    And dont show me a goddamn unicorn and NOT have Han Solo fight-the-fuck out of it at the end.

    Posted by FRED FLETCH | Monday 02 September 2013 @ 16:40

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