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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.36%
Worth A Look: 20.45%
Just Average: 18.18%
Pretty Crappy50%
Sucks: 0%

4 reviews, 20 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Dystopia, Then The Fireworks"
2 stars

WIth its blend of sheer cinematic style, wicked social satire and intelligent storytelling (at least until the third act devolved into one giant shootout), the 2009 release "District 9" proved to be one of the more invigorating entries in the sci-fi genre in recent memory and its desire to give audiences something new instead on yet another rehash of the same old stuff paid off across the board--it made a ton of money (especially considering its relatively minuscule budget), it received rave reviews and even managed to score an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, a feat almost unheard of for a film of its type. As a result, debuting writer-director Neil Blomkamp, whose previous claim to fame was being hand-picked by Peter Jackson to write and direct an adaptation of the "Halo" video game that eventually fell apart over budget issues, became the toast of Hollywood and I can only assume that virtually every top-shelf genre project of note was sent his way. However, instead of simply grabbing the first thing that came along with a big payday, Blomkamp decided to go his own way and now, more than four years after the release of "District 9," he has finally returned with his long-awaited follow-up project, the sci-fi spectacular "Elysium."

This might have been an inspiring story if it weren't for one inconvenient fact--"Elysium" is a pretty terrible movie on all levels and a massive comedown from Blomkamp's previous film. What makes it frustrating is that it is not just another run-of-the-mill bad movie made by someone looking to make a quick buck. From the first frame to the last, it is obvious that this is the work a filmmaker with a singular vision attempting to funnel that unique perspective through the parameters of what is expected from a contemporary blockbuster--big stars, bigger special effects and thematic material that can be somewhat subversive and radical, but not so much so as to alienate the mass audience required to make it a profitable endeavor. The trouble is that Blomkamp never figures out how to pull it off and the result is an ambitious but ungainly mess that never pulls itself together into a final product as simultaneously exciting and thought-provoking as it so obviously wants to be.

It is the year 2154 and, in news that will no doubt surprise anyone who has not seen a science-fiction movie in recent years, the future is a grim and unyielding place indeed as global warming and overpopulation have combined to turn Earth, or at least the chunk of it on display, into a violent wasteland combining the most unsavory aspects of Detroit, Tijuana and Barter Town. Of course, if you are on the obscenely wealthy end of the class spectrum, you can instead move to Elysium, a gigantic space station revolving above Earth in which every possible creature comfort is provided for, the main industry appears to be garden parties and each luxury home is equipped with a medical pod capable of curing any and all afflictions and allowing users to theoretically live forever. Not surprisingly, many of those stuck on Earth would prefer to live on Elysium but Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has a foolproof plan to keep the riffraff out--whenever a ship containing desperate urchins and the like comes near the station, she contacts Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a deranged rogue agent in her secret employ who is stationed on Earth, and he blows them out of the sky with a super-powerful rocket launcher.

One of those yearning to one day go to Elysium is Max (Matt Damon), an ex-con struggling to make a life for himself working in a factory making the very same robot cops that brutally oppress the human populace on a daily basis. One day, there is an accident and Max is exposed to enough radiation to ensure that he has only five days to live. His only chance is to somehow get to Elysium and reach one of those pods and with nothing else to lose, he agrees to pull off a massive heist for the guy who runs the local criminal underground. The plan is to kidnap rich and powerful industrialist John Carlyle (William Fichtner), download all the secret information that he is holding--presumably bank codes and the like--into Max's mind and then deliver it in exchange for an immediate ride to Elysium. To aid the now-weakened Max in his efforts, his employers even outfit him with a robotic exoskeleton that makes him stronger than anyone else around.

What Max doesn't realize is that instead of the expected ATM codes and assorted passwords, he has instead download evidence of a plan by Delacourt to stage a coup against the current president of Elysium by rebooting the station's systems using a program developed by Carlyle. (The film is a little foggy on exactly how that might work but never mind.) As an added bonus, that program, if properly used, could make everyone on Earth an instant citizen of Elysium and allow them to come and go as they please and partake in their literally universal health care program. Needless to say, this hiccup does not quite fit in with Delacourt's plans and, in an effort to destroy the evidence of her treachery, she secretly reinstates Kruger--who was recently dismissed from duty by the Elysium government--and orders him to capture Max and bring the information that he is holding to her. Adding to an already complicated situation is Frey (Alice Braga), a childhood friend of Max's with an adorable young daughter who is about to die of leukemia and Kruger's realization that he can use the information Max is holding to take over Elysium for himself.

Although "District 9" was not quite the masterpiece that many of its devotees claim it to be--largely because it squandered a lot of interesting ideas by allowing the final reels to develop into one long action sequence instead of figuring out a way to resolve them in ways that didn't revolve exclusively around things blowing up real good--I liked it for the most part because it was a science-fiction movie that offered viewers more than just a bunch of flashy special effects. It told a compelling story in an interesting fashion that had any number of parallels to real-life issues without hitting viewers over the head too hard while underlining the comparisons. It presented a vision of the near-future that was reasonably plausible and detailed enough so that one got a real sense of what life might be like in such circumstances. There was a central character whose initial bumblings and gradual realization about the inequities of the system he was serving made him seem more human and recognizable than the heroes usually found in films of this type. Blomkamp also managed to effortlessly shift tones between hard action to wicked humor to sensitive drama with nary a stumble. These are things that are a challenge to even the best filmmakers at times and to see one pull them off for the most part in his first time at bat, especially under the constraints of a relatively small budget, was highly impressive and it made one wonder what he might accomplish working with all the resources he could possibly want.

Working this time with a budget said to be over $100 million--not that outlandish for a current-day spectacle but a major jump from what he had to make "District 9"--Blomkamp has definitely given "Elysium" a much larger scope than before but winds up proving that old adage about bigger not necessarily being better at the same time. His storyline is basically a hodgepodge of "Metropolis" and "Robocop" that is largely lacking the detailed touches that helped make "District 9" so distinctive. For example, we get very little sense of what Elysium is actually like or any ideas about who lives there and what they think of the great socio-economic divide between them and the people stuck on Earth. There are endless possibilities for satire here but Blomkamp misses most of them--instead of the self-indulgent paradise one might expect, Elysium here has all the glamour and excitement of a giant industrial park. This lack of detail extends to the rest of the narrative as a potentially provocative storyline is presented in the broadest terms possible and without any sense of nuance or subtlety.

Speaking of no sense of nuance or subtlety, most of the performances are ridiculously over-the-top and add to the cartoonish nature of the proceedings. Having played an ordinary Everyman placed into extraordinary circumstances with great wit and restraint in "District 9," Sharlto Copley has clearly been encouraged to play to the rafters and beyond here but instead of coming off as menacing with his murderous demeanor and borderline feral look, he seems more like a refugee from the set of the old Ringo Starr movie "Caveman," though he inspires more laughs (largely unintentional) than that particular film ever generated.

However, his exertions seem like the very model of restraint when compared to the contributions of Jodie Foster in what is easily one of the worst performances of her long and usually distinguished career. With her stiff posture, clipped manner of speech and an accent that fluctuates uneasily between French, South African and Unknown, she is trying to create a portrait of blandly monstrous corporate ruthlessness but misses the mark so completely that it blows the mind that an actress as good as her could give a performance as absolutely horrible as she has done here. In fact, the only performance that works--arguably the only thing in the entire film that works--is Damon's but his low-key and realistic turn, one that would have fit in perfectly with the rest of ''District 9," winds up clashing uncomfortably with the otherwise cartoonish surroundings.

Considering the number of expensive bummers that have littered the cinematic landscape this summer, I suppose it is sadly fitting that the season should wind down with one more of them. To its credit, "Elysium" is more of a disappointment based on high expectations than an all-out disaster--it at least tries a little bit harder than the others--and even in its worst moments, it still demonstrates that Neil Blomkamp is a director with talent and vision, two aspects that are increasingly rare these days. Hopefully with his next outing, he will find a better showcase for them and make the kind of film that he is clearly capable of doing and prove that he is more than just a one-hit wonder.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22561&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/07/13 18:43:04
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User Comments

10/03/20 DavidV Entertaining and well-produced social allegory 4 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell not bad at all alot better than district 9 4 stars
3/03/16 Dan Does this piece of shit count as a review? Fuck. 4 stars
3/10/15 Joe This was good sci-fi with relevant social critique 4 stars
9/22/14 jeff screw the critics 5 stars
7/03/14 Terror Great old school kick ass sci if. Enjoyed it 5 stars
1/17/14 mr.mike Fantastic sci-fi flick 4.5 stars 4 stars
12/06/13 Pearl Bogdan worth watching if you are a fan of District 9 4 stars
11/25/13 terra c Great film 5 stars
11/22/13 Lord Awesome bloody action 5 stars
11/22/13 josephine Great acttion 5 stars
11/14/13 Langano Formulaic Hollywood nonsense 2 stars
10/15/13 Carl Very enjoyable flick. Copley is the MAN that guy is nuts. 4 stars
9/09/13 EL Let-down, plot and premise had a lot of potential but last 20 mins were hopelessly cliche 3 stars
9/02/13 Geraldine Interesting world-building but average in every other way 3 stars
8/27/13 Yusuf Nasrullah Ho hum....NEXT!!!! 2 stars
8/18/13 Koitus Surprised at the blood-splattering. Loved the grenade footage! ;-) 4 stars
8/14/13 Man Out Six Bucks Mexicans destroy all that's good on Earth then sail through a Mexico-size plothole 2 stars
8/11/13 Mishyana No District 9, but still a good flick. Surprising to see HB dumping on it. 4 stars
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  09-Aug-2013 (R)
  DVD: 17-Dec-2013

  21-Aug-2013 (15)

  DVD: 17-Dec-2013

Directed by
  Neill Blomkamp

Written by
  Neill Blomkamp

  Jodie Foster
  Matt Damon
  William Fichtner
  Sharlto Copley
  Wagner Moura

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