Saturday, September 7, 2013

Movie Review - Elysium

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No one knew who South African film director Neill Blomkamp was until District 9, a sci-fi action thriller, was released years ago to critical acclaim. And although Nigerians felt wounded by the gross misrepresentation of its people depicted in the film, not to mention the cheeky but brazen mockery of a certain Nigerian ruler, District 9 proved to be far from a mere popcorn flick, drawing fairly acceptable performances from its obscure cast and being nominated for four Academy Awards.  Now, fast forward to 2013, and Blomkamp brings yet another offering on the sci-fi alter, with as much special effects that characterized his previous work: a testament to his extraordinary skill as a visual filmmaker.

In Elysium, it’s 2154 and Earth is the home of the poor, a place ravaged by disease, pollution, overpopulation and has become one vast, apocalyptic slum, monitored by stern security robots. Meanwhile, the rich have relocated to an idyllic place called Elysium, a luxurious ring-shaped space station where they regularly use in their homes man-sized medical devices (or Med-Pods), to keep them free from diseases. Everything up there is lushly green and glinting with chrome, its citizens living in white mansions, speaking French, attending endless cocktail parties and poolside fundraisers with other stuffy rich people.

The plot revolves around Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), an ex-con who now works in a plant that manufactures robots and the bulk of Elysium’s weapons, owned by top-ranked Elysian citizen John Carlyle (William Fitchner). But after an industrial accident exposes Max to a massive dose of radiation, he becomes terminally ill, having only five days to live. He isn’t alone, though. The daughter of his childhood best friend Frey (Alice Braga), has leukemia, and her health, too, is declining quickly. Frey works as a nurse in a local hospital where the health care is bleakly inadequate to save her daughter’s life.  Max, knowing that his chance of survival is to use the Med-Pod available only on Elysium, tracks down Spider (Wagner Mourer), a notorious crime lord and they make a deal.

In exchange for a ticket on an illicit flight to Elysium, Max will adopt Carlyle in order to steal valuable information from him. And so, considering his frail state, Max undergoes a surgical operation—a strength-boosting exo-skeleton suit grafted onto his body—to enhance his physicality.  Accompanied by a small team, the attempt to adopt Carlyle goes awry, due to the interception by a vicious mercenary called Kruger (Sharlto Copley, a familiar face from District 9, remember?), hired by Elysian Secretary of Defence Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Delacourt is the ambitious, grim-faced, stiletto-wearing official seeking to usurp the government of Elysian President Patel (Faran Tahir), and when Max finally manages to land on Elysium, things begin to fall apart.

Elysium's greatest strength is its aesthetic vision of future earth and its space-bound Beverly Hills. The film spends a good amount of time establishing the inequality between the poor and the rich in this always relevant parable of people in wealthy nations turning their backs on the world's less fortunate, but it misses its opportunity to actually explore these themes on a substantive level. Instead, we get a series of silly and convenient circumstances that manufacture a narrow and equally silly plot of one hero who does what every generic hero does.

Head shaved and muscled torso covered with tattoos, Matt Damon’s acting was quite impressive and entertaining, having spent four hours each day in the gym to get into his character. As the plot unfolds, he becomes this die hard, gun-wielding commando that was absolutely fun to watch.  On the other hand, Jodie Foster’s performance was rather awful, and going by her Oscar-winning reputation, one would have expected a stellar act. She sports a distracting accent that sounded neither German nor Russian as her character floats listlessly through the narrative with little significance.

Sharlto Copley didn’t disappoint with his manic brutality as he morphed into the ultimate super villain, except for his South African accent that was turned up to ridiculous levels, caused most probably by sheer indulgence. Elysium isn’t perfect. Some scenes and character motivations didn’t make sense. For example, few refugees from Earth found it far too easy to break into the homes of Elysian citizens, despite the armed robots in the area. Also, there was hardly any emotional entanglement between the characters, no slice of romance; it was almost as if Blomkamp was intent on flogging everyone with the issues of immigration and health care and class disparity. Nevertheless, with this second feature film, his future seems to be full of promise.

Bernard Ogedengbe is a sci-fi writer and the editor of Literati Naija. He tweets from @Bernard_Oged

1 comment:

  1. Hmm interesting. Haven't seen the movie and I might just check out if it's still showing.


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