'Elysium:' a well-paced action adventure

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By ANDREW LINK
(digitalBURG) — Matt Damon and Jodie Foster need no introductions, which is always something that should make a viewer wary of poor writing and production. It’s a weird regression wherein actors get famous by being in fantastic films and then stay famous by being a Band-Aid on horrible wounds inflicted upon the vision-controlling bits of our brains, causing them to hemorrhage uncontrollably.
In the effort to find out what kind of film “Elysium” is, we can instead look to its writer. Or its director, since they’re the same guy. Neill Blomkamp looks about as goofy as his name, but Time listed him as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2009. Forbes hyped him as the 21st most powerful celebrity figure from Africa.
So why the heck does no one know about his film career? In short, he doesn’t have one. The man has done a boatload of photorealistic animation for things ranging from heavy hitters like “Stargate SG-1” to the “Landfall” series set in the “Halo” universe.
However, he’s only got one major film under his belt as a director. “District 9,” Blomkamp’s brainchild, was brought to life when producer Peter Jackson saw their joint efforts on a live-action “Halo” film fall through. It turned out to be a good sidestep for both men and “District 9” had its praises sung by critics.
A quick glance at his short stories and avant garde mini-films makes the stage for “District 9” unsurprising. Like “Elysium,” the viewer is presented with a segregated social group being denied the riches held (in reality or otherwise) by another set of people. Unsurprisingly, the Johannesburg native’s writing seems to be very influenced by his homeland’s history of apartheid.
For those of us not wanting to delve into psychology and who have no idea what a dompas was, the bottom line is the same as with any other film: it’s either entertaining or it’s not.
“District 9” had a very clear commentary on apartheid and “Elysium” does little to mask that it’s one giant allegory about the injustice of making any form of immigration illegal. Throw in a dash of healthcare-should-be-free commentary and pretend it’s an action flick and you’ve got “Elysium.”
Despite a bad rap after “Team America: World Police” made him the butt of a joke that’s been going strong for about 10 years, Matt Damon is a decent actor. He does a fine job in “Elysium” and seems to really be dedicated to his everyman character. He brings the protagonist to life in a relatable way that makes you have so much compassion for him you know there’s no way his Rambo antics are going to keep him from achieving his mission.
Jodie Foster is bland because her character was written blandly, Damon’s love interest is nothing more than a female in need of his assistance, and his best friend is…some guy with a ponytail? I’m sure he had a name. I just know it.
I’m also fairly confident that the snarling guy with the thick South African accent was the villain. I’ve had more than my fair share of embarrassing moments translating accented English to good old American for my less-than-worldly acquaintances, but Sharlto Copley was so mushmouthed that at times I’d catch three words and then nothing but slop.
Blomkamp is fiercely loyal to Copley and they’re old buddies and all, but is it really necessary to ramp up the accent (he was totally understandable in “District 9”) and slap a South African flag on his shuttle just to pay homage to a homeland Blomkamp hasn’t lived in since he was 16?
Blomkamp is another up-and-comer who needs to take off his hipster glasses and realize that a cheap tripod will do more for his films than the attempt to be edgy by filming everything guerilla-style. He should use his 3D graphics history to make a short animation advertising this movie as being available in Nausea Vision.
I’m not prone to motion sickness at all, but had to dismiss myself to the back of the theater for several minutes to keep my eyes from swimming. I wasn’t alone. Practically all (or perhaps all) of the film is shot from handheld cameras. Sometimes the guerilla-style is even simulated.
In the final showdown between Mushmouth and Everyman, the action is so blurred as they tumble about that it never hits a point of being exciting because you can’t actually tell what’s going on.
A punch! Now a few seconds of blurred tumbling. Another punch! More blurred tumbling. Some kind of unintelligible repartee from Mushy! And some blurs. Yawn.
The story itself is an unoriginal and uninspired excuse to make a political statement. Hero resists bad life, hero has problem, hero makes tough choice, hero saves girl, hero beats bad guy, hero embraces fate as hero. There’s no telling where Blomkamp was going with the ending.
It could have been a tearjerk moment. It could have been a huge twist. If only Blomkamp hadn’t told us halfway into the movie exactly what was going to happen.
The film is paced well, the protagonist is easy enough to empathize with, and the visual effects are done very well. However, the story itself is beat-for-beat the same as a hundred other action flicks that don’t force politics down your throat. The guerilla-style filming is atrocious, the baddies are flat, and the dialogue is no better than something a high schooler could write.
While the settings are quite impressive, the foundation for the plot is never actually laid. Why can robots be programmed to replace doctors and police but not factory workers? How does capitalism work when the whole of the planet is unemployed? Why would a supremely technologically advanced space station rely on a psychopath on the earth using a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher to protect its airspace?
Put your logic on hold and if you can stomach the shaking camera, “Elysium” will be a decent-enough action movie with a steady escalation that will carry you along for a nice, short ride. Go into this movie expecting something to champion to your friends and you will be somewhat disappointed.
I’m sure you’ll hear plenty of people hype “Elysium” and tell you what a great movie it is. You’ll also find a lot of people who will insist they’ve seen the visage of the Madonna on the back of a grilled cheese. Avoid paying theater prices to see “Elysium.”
Saying so will probably get me hanged by fanboys, but I would not watch this film a second time and stand by a rating of 6.1/10.