Elysium (2013) Review
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like the extremely overrated District 9, Elysium's lone strength is its convincing special effects and its weaknesses are in every other area. Although there is nothing as terribly stupid as the District 9 "alien blood that can bond with human DNA ... and also power spaceships," Elysium is heavy handed allegory, amped up drama and dramatically ridiculous.
Some of the ships and robots are great to look at---seeing Syd Mead's name in the credits was not a big surprise.
Since the days of Hitchcock people seemed to have forgotten that the first and most important job of a director is not to come up with 'cool visuals,' but direct actors. Ergo, the title, 'director.'
So congrats to Blomkamp for showing me the first truly terrible Jodie Foster performance. It's like he showed her a 1960s spider-man cartoon and said, 'like this but bigger.' And a lot of her work was dubbed for some reason, likely accent inconsistency (even though it's still inconsistent in the end product). And i am a HUGE William Fichtner fan, but this movie also showcases his career nadir. Sometimes he seems to be imitating Data from Star Trek, other times, sort of German. And Copley as the villain...well if there is a less menacing accent than this, i haven't heard it. And he is of course, way, way over the top as he was in District 9 (though he was decent in Europa Report). Damon is the only performer whose work is credible, probably because he's a big enough star to just say no if Blomkamp wants to turn him into a screaming cartoon.
In terms of story, don't expect any science or anything other than good versus evil. Sadly, with rare exception, Hollywood science fiction movies are really just noisy action movies these days, and as a huge science fiction fan I know i'll rarely see any interesting scientific elements in these (though the movies of Duncan Jones and Kosinski do have some smart ideas and are the exceptions). So no, Elysium isn't sci-fi, but just heavy handed action movie allegory, more or less the same class warfare of District 9, so he's already retreading this theme. Then there is the would-be action centerpiece exo-skeletal suit, an idea that doesn't work at all, and isn't well sold visually. Really, as designed, this thing wouldn't work without tearing off fingers and smashing the limbs of its user, which is why most exo-skeletal designs are also armor that could shield a water-based lifeform. In any case, the actions scenes are so shaky and over cut, it's hard to see what's happening regardless. But I never had even a moment of thinking the thing actually functioned or would function.
Blomkamp clearly has a political viewpoint---one that I have no issue with at all, except that it makes his writing too pedantic and monochromatic. A strong viewpoint does not make one a good writer. Writing rich people are bad and poor people are good is not dramatically compelling to watch, even if you actually believe things are that simple. Look at the success George RR Martin is having with complex characters...Blomkamp's writing seems like that of a child by comparison. That Elysium is self-important and humorless, doesn't help.
And if Blomkamp (who clearly should not write his own movies) really understood science fiction the way actual science fiction writers do---guys like Greg Egan, JMS, Ted Chiang, Arthur C. Clarke, Greg Bear, M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter, Larry Niven, etc.--- he would not have a future world technology where humans can be rebuilt at an atomic level in the same world as one in which robots fire guns and miss their targets. (!!!) Robots hitting their targets when they fire is near future and to some extent, current; rebuilding bodies at an atomic level (in less than a minute) is very, very, very far future, if ever.
But like most Hollywood junk---and the similarly stupid, crazily overrated breakthrough success District 9--- Blomkamp is doing something that looks like science fiction, but isn't.