Saturday, 31 August 2013

Elysium Review

Neill Blomkamp was given $100m for his sci-fi follow up to go play unhappy future with Matt Damon, making Los Angeles a dystopia in 2154 which is heavily populated with mostly Mexicans. Since the rich left Earth to live on Elysium, a space station safe-haven of unparalleled beauty, designed to be a perfect place for the highbrow to live, Los Angeles suffered an invasion of people from people south of the border (is it racist or in favour of immigration?). If you’ve seen District 9 then expect more of the same from the Blomkamp camp of unsubtle allegorical sci-fi in this. That’s not to say that it being unsubtle is a weakness, far from it. Being so blunt about a message can be a deterrent for a lot of people but if it’s one that needs punching home then having it uppercut you with knuckle-dusters is the way for it.

As was said, we’re in Los Angeles in 2154 where we’re following around Max (Matt Damon) in his awful life where he’s another mistreated Earthling – one with a job at least. His past is one of crime where he’d steal in a promise made to Freya (Alice Braga) to get a ticket to Elysium, where they’ll live the perfect lives of the rich. Years after that promise hasn’t materialised, Max is given a death sentence which sees him kit up in the exo-suit you’ve seen in trailers, posters and TV spots. With the get-up on, fittingly suited and booted, he now has to travel to Elysium to try and restore equality between the inverted worlds. This requires the help of the annoyingly overblown Spider (Wagna Moura), hacker extraordinaire. Meanwhile, Jodie Foster‘s cold, space-accented Delacourt is trying to gain more power and control to make sure the space station is never stained with the poor.

Neill Blomkamp has an eye for the future as we’ve seen from his debut feature and the five shorts that got him noticed before it. He has a good vision and grasp on technology to create not excessive creations nor too many crazy fashion adventures to still give a familiarity to promote realism, connecting the audience to these idyllic and destroyed futuristic worlds. Elysiumites all speak French because it’s so classy and adopt a mixture of accents that many have credited as bad acting but it seems more purposeful; they speak in a mixture of posh English, twangs of French, spoken with robotic tones. William Fichtner and Jodie Foster share similar accents although Foster’s is polished more; perhaps because of more time spent on Elysium. 

Visual effects are becoming more and more stunning in recent years, this is no exception to that rule. Sometimes you fall for movie magic, really believing what’s being presented to you as our present since the polished machinery, detailed sets and immaculate imagination make this world corporeal which is added more so by the visceral cinematography of shakicam rather than steadicam. Shaking with the violence of fights, wars and chases is used to help make it feel real but sometimes fall on the wrong side of dizzying and irritating. It can be infuriating when you can’t see the hard work of the stunt co-ordinators because the camera is too dynamic to appreciate the details of the fight. With the future presented as sleek (on Elysium) it feels like the camera should be sleek and steady along with it instead of presenting it with the gritty, dirtiness of Earth’s world – with a $100m budget, you can afford steadicam.

Well presented is a bonus if there’s a story inhabited by real characters to help certify the world. Oblivion suffered from having thin characters inhabiting a thin story in a rich dystopia decorated to be so bleakly picturesque. Aesthetically it was excellent but that wasn’t reflected in the quality of characters nor story but that’s where this separates it to be an even better sci-fi film. There are still some slight character struggles, some questionable motivations and a few holes – especially about the miracle cure machines – involved, it’s, on the whole, a rich sci-fi story in a detailed, well-thought out world. Performances from the cast are all excellent with the special standout for Sharlto Copley that turns the psychopath up to Jack Nicholson levels, really becoming an horrendous, violent presence on screen. Elysium isn’t perfect like its space station, it has flaws like Earth and like humans, it’s not perfectly predicting the future but it’s telling the way it can go if injustice and separation is continually allowed. Packed with action, violence, magnificent technological creations and some overwrought drama, Elysium is a both glistening and gritty; making a good story layered with subtext and gripped with tension. Who knew so much information could be unlocked from Matt Damon’s head and an iPhone cable?