Elysium fields political bite, but little more
Having stunned audiences with his exhilarating sci-fi debut District 9, South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp makes an eagerly anticipated return with another futuristic action thriller. Blomkamp’s Elysium may evoke the same politically-charged ethos of its predecessor, but rather than supplementing the narrative the excessive social commentaries dominate this mildly entertaining, yet ultimately hollow enterprise.
The cinematic quality of District 9 was matched by its financial success – the 2009 sleeper hit made a whopping $210 million dollars from a minuscule budget. This remarkable triumph caught the eye of the studios and Blomkamp was granted a vast budget for his follow up. An increased budget allowed Blomkamp to build a high profile cast that includes Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley (who also starred in District 9), but sadly this comparatively monstrous budget is squandered with one-dimensional characters and a wafer thin narrative.
Elysium is devoid of characters the audience can emotionally invest in and no actor escapes the torment of the feeble script. Damon is as reliable as ever in his clichéd role as the wise-cracking anti-hero, but sarcastic remarks alone have never made for a suitable protagonist. The weak characterisation is further exemplified by the antagonists; a Bond-esque villain Secretary Delacourt and her sadistic sleeper agent Kruger for which Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley engage in a battle of overacting, one employing a disastrous pseudo-British accent and the other an exaggeration of his native, expletive-filled South African draw. These veracious characters, and the comical performances they result in, epitomize a lack of subtlety that lingers throughout the entire film.
Like District 9, Elysium blends the political implications of a Michael Moore documentary with the bombastic action of a Michael Bay flick, but where Blomkamp’s debut offered a refined union, Elysium is chaotic. There is no denying the richly detailed dystopian future Blomkamp has created, but by exploring a plethora of themes – immigration, the class system, corporate monopolization, renewable energy, poverty, political corruption and others – in such a short space of time he is only able to skirt these important issues. Where District 9 embeds a powerful social commentary to fuel the narrative, Elysium’s constant pondering is secondary to the conventional plot to the degree where meaningful themes become inconsequential.
Elysium is a middle of the road action film that sees a beautifully original sci-fi world, big budget action and relevant socio-political themes let down by clichéd characters, tame writing and wafer thing plotting. This conventional Hollywood affair is thankfully succinct and entertaining enough, but after District 9 this tame follow up is nothing but a disappointment.