18 August 2013

Elysium movie review

Went and saw Elysium earlier this week and it was one of those rare cases where I decided to go in with as little information about the movie as possible - avoiding watching extended trailers, checking IMDB and all the usual stuff. Well... the movie left me very conflicted, it had some really good stuff, and a lot of crap in it. The first half of this review will be completely spoiler free - the bottom half will include some spoilers and my thoughts about some details that bothered me.

Spoiler free review

It's the future, roughly 2150 and the Earth, as usual, has gone to shit. People live in what seems to be endless urban ruins/ghettos - the buildings look as if they belonged in a Mordheim game with lots of holes and damage to them and being joined with rickety walkways. Dirty everywhere, and the main character played by Matt Damon has a shitty job working at some factory with possibly the worst kind of workplace environment. Matt Damon also seems to be the only white person left on the surface of the Earth, as everyone else is Latin American and speaks Spanish.

Meanwhile, in orbit, there is a big space station, "Elysium", where all the rich people (predominantly white population, with some token Asians and a single Pakistani actor thrown in for good measure) live a careless lifestyle with free and instant healthcare coming from some kind of scanners that everyone has in their home - which can remove any kind of disease and physical defects. Everything up there is dandy, or at least I think so because we get to see very little of it and learn next to nothing about it.

Back to the garbage pile that is Earth, so there are these smugglers that run a sci-fi version of the human smuggling going on in the world with overcrowded boats - but in this movie the boats are exchanged for crappy space ships. People on Earth pay big money to get a "Elysium citizen" tag branded onto their arms and hope to go up to the space station, break into other people’s homes and scan themselves with the healthcare machines. The problem is that the space station prohibits and stops all of these transports, the effort is being led by a character played by Jodie Foster and who has delusions of grandeur and is just plain evil and power hungry.

So, one day Matt Damon has a little accident at the factory and realizes that the only way he can survive is to attempt to get up to Elysium. And that is pretty much the plot without giving away spoilers or additional story arcs.

The whole story is extremely predictable and you know exactly how it's going to end half an hour into the movie. Some things early on annoyed be but were then tied into the plot and I accepted them, only to be annoyed again towards the end because it was all so on the nose, sentimental and predictable as hell. There are zero surprises in this movie, and it's remarkable how an original movie with such cool ideas can fall so short. What really saves this movie is the setting, the attention to detail, some of the acting (mainly by Matt Damon) and the effects which are phenomenal and probably some of the best CGI effects to appear in a movie for a long time.

Elysium takes a blender and throws in all the bad stuff and mixes it up so well with the good stuff that it's hard to either love or hate this movie, you just get a conflicted feeling when it's over. It's both stupid and really well made at the same time. I  think many of the problems could have been solved by swapping the roles of some actors, and cutting a few of the story arcs which just feel pointless and cliché as well as take up too much time and distract from the main plot. Do I regret that I watched it in the cinema? No I honestly don't, at the same time I don't feel like recommend people to go and see it, better to wait until it's out on DVD or Blue-Ray.

I'll give the director this (the guy who made District 9), he is really good at creating a believable world. Reminded me of some comments from the original Star Wars trilogy boxed set where it was mentioned how Star Wars looked and felt as if people actually lived in that setting - with everything being used, worn and dirty. The same feeling can be found watching Elysium, the attention to detail with graffiti and other such things on the objects, ships etc is really well done. The only real downside to the visual part of the movie is the use of shaky cam, I really that gimmick and wish directors would stop using it in their movies. Especially since there are some really nice camera angles being used during the fights, that are buried beneath the shakiness. Well, at least it wasn't in 3D.

Overall, this movie is a weak 7/10, that could have easily been 8.5 or better if  you tightened the plot, fixed some of its problems.

!Spoiler discussion about the problems below!

Right so let's talk a bit more about the problems, this text contains full spoilers. Starting with the population of the two worlds. It was really distracting to have Matt Damon being pretty much the only white dude and EVERYONE in his living area being Latin American. I read somewhere that the part that Matt Damon plays was meant to be played by a Latin American guy but ended up being played by Matt Damon. I don't know if that would have changed the movie to the better, it would perhaps be a bit less jarring.

The movie has a few problems which I think could have been fixed very easily and made the movie a lot better. There are three villains in this movie, Jodie Foster a tightass "Donald Rumsfeld" type of politician, William Fichtner who is a really cold and calculating corporate businessman and  Kruger - a degenerate rapist mercenary sleeper agent operating on Earth played by Sharlto Copley (main actor from District 9).

William Fichtner is spectacularly good as always, and does an excellent job. The part he has however is short and would probably have fitted Jodie Foster better because she really can't pull off the part she has been given and comes off as a campy moron who keeps over pronouncing (and using) silly words like "Habitat" (when referring to the space station). That would also make it more interesting during the "heist" scene with the main character and the corporate director character.

The character of Kruger is extremely over the top, I can't get over his silly accent.  I think the director should have toned that down a notch or two. He is so insane that no one in their right mind would use him for the delicate task that he is given, and also, the whole thing about him attempting to become the president of Elysium was also a load of crap.

Then we have the "science" part of this sci-fi story. There are a lot of things not even remotely explained.  For instance what exactly is the role between Earth and Elysium? If Earth is shit why bother sticking around. Resources? The factories producing security robots that are only used to enforce the law on Earth? Why don't the Elysium people just say "fuck it" and leave or completely cut the contact with Earth. It is not explained if and what Elysium needs from Earth. It has robot servants, surely it doesn't need cheap human labor working in sweatshops?

Elysium itself is also very weird, it seems really small, in terms of the width of the living space on the surface. There doesn't appear to be anything but suburban architecture and golf courses covering the surface. At the same time the whole structure is a big halo and you can clearly see how the ground is curving upwards in both directions within a couple of hundred yards. How the hell does gravity work?

Second question about Elysium, how the hell does the atmosphere work?! There is no roof encasing the atmosphere, and the glass (at least it looks like glass) walls are not very tall. If they are a hundred of two hundred meters tall then that's it. Not enough for a real atmosphere and certainly not enough to keep the air from evaporating. And there is absolutely nothing stopping objects from moving into the atmosphere as ships move through it without problem. Would it not be really dangerous with small rocks and space debris potentially hitting the surface of Elysium? It's not like on Earth where crap burns up in the atmosphere before hitting ground.

And how exactly does the doctor station work, what kind of resources are used for the healing and reconstructing of  body parts? Just looks like a giant scanner, and body parts that are reconstructed are made up of flesh and not synthetic material.

How does Matt Damon move around with that damn exo-skeleton with screws deep into his flesh and skeleton. He would die or get paralyzed if someone hit him over the back. Makes no real sense despite there beign a good point for him having the exo skeleton. Also makes me wonder how he got that T-shirt on afterwards.

Why didn't Elysium appear to have any proper countermeasures in case of an attack from Earth? They relied on sleeper agents like Kruger to fire RPG rockets into space from Earth to protect the station in space?! Would it not be reasonable to have some kind of patrol craft or defensive turrets? Just seems like the only way Elysium still exists is because no one on earth was pissed off enough to attempt to destroy it with a bomb.

And what the hell was that at the end, medical ships flying down to earth to provide medical care? They could do that all the time? Granted that they mention that the earth is overpopulated and all that but without the explanation whether or not the medical machines actually use any resources - surely those medical ships could have been calibrated to provide health care for those in most dire need down on earth in order to avoid all the shenanigans with the refugee shuttles? And what exactly does it mean that everyone on Earth became citizens of Elysium - and what kind of stupid system to use as a foundation for your new nation up in space btw.... Does it mean that everyone will get free healthcare from the medical ships? Because there sure as hell isn't enough room for everyone up on Elysium.

The whole sideplot with the woman and her child was just so sentimental and on the nose that it annoyed the hell out of me, and the movie would have been better without that whole storyline. It would be a lot more interesting if the plot kept itself to Matt Damon and his caseof radiation, and the heist on the memory bank of the corporate guy.

I don't know, if you start to think about a lot of the stuff in this movie, it begins to fall apart. It's solidly packaged with good action and great effects but it is lazy when it comes to provide sensible and proper explanation for how things of importance work.


  1. Good review, I agree with your points, the camo drop ship was lovely, TBH, I think the whole movie was made to push the "boat people" political argument, I find myself nowadays looking at movies from a whole differant angle, most of them today seem to be propaganda.

    1. Yes the ship belonging to Kruger and his two henchmen was pretty awesome. The political propaganda was so transparent though, I mean to base a Sci-Fi movie around healthcare and boat refugees.... it wasn’t even cleverly concealed and presented in a subtle way. Probably one of the most ham fisted political comments I've seen in a movie for a very long while.

  2. interesting review. gravity is faked by spinning the ring. its quite possible but it has to spin. i liked the visuals of the movie and kruger was great but in other areas it was lacking.

  3. I'm not sure the good people of South Africa would be all that thrilled to hear about your contention with Kruger's 'silly' accent :p

    My main contention was the medical drop ships at the end. Why did they even exist? There was nothing to suggest that Elysium was planning on giving mass aid to Earth, there can't have been enough people on Elysium to warrant that number of ships in case of an emergency up there and even if there were, they've all got personal medical bays in their own homes.

    1. Haha, oh well, what I meant was that the accent used by Kruger didn't match the menace of the character.
      And yeah, those medical ships just made little sense, the whole ending was quite botched.

  4. I agree with the review. Maybe is because it was getting a lot of hype, but i did not feel attached to any of the characters in this movie.


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