So hopes were high but I have to admit they dulled a little when I first saw the trailers for Elysium. They did reflect a lot of what we had seen with District 9 in a lot of ways, from style to story, but I hoped that was just a marketing tool to help us connect with the new film.
Certainly there seemed to be enough differences and there was a fantastic cast with Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura and William Fichtner. Plus considering what Blomkamp's had delivered before, how could you say no?
Meanwhile the rich elite and the controlling groups have everything they could want, including a wonderful place to live, Elysium, the name of their home, a space station orbiting Earth.
Meanwhile on Earth a man finds that the last choices and hopes he had are taken away from him, and shunned by those that could help him he decides to help himself. In a bold move he risks everything on a chance that could bring down the ruling elite and provide help for everyone on Earth.
Elysium has a strong idea behind it and just like District 9 (Filmstalker review) it is based on real world problems. Here though it is much more transparent and feels much less intelligently created. There's a massive rich and poor divide where the rich have everything and the poor nothing, and the divide is physical as well as monetary with the rich being openly disgusted by the very prospect of being on Earth and in the presence of the poor.
This was one of my main issues with the film for it presents a rather simplified and polarised view of the good guys and the bad guys. Our main hero of the film is actually a bad guy, there are hints of a life of crime and yet the way he's portrayed is that he was misunderstood, mistreated by a system, etc. There's honour among the bad guys on Earth and even the head honcho is out to try and liberate the planet and humanity, not for any personal gain.
That polarises well against the far extreme of those on Elysium who are elitist, rich, have everything at their fingertips and are also thoroughly evil without a hint of humanity. One of our two main characters who we connect with this world are so outlandish that when they are on Earth they are positively disgusted with breathing the same air as those around them and make it clearly known in front of everyone.
For me this set a rather low bar in the intelligence of the story. The characters are extremely polarised and almost cartoonish in their stance and I do wish that we were shown more characters from Elysium than those that we do see, ones that provide us with some middle ground between the two.
Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy Jodie Foster playing an evil character, she's really good at it, but her character and that of William Fichtner's just go too far in being evil. If they had showed a few more characters in their world that were more normal, perhaps more caring towards those on Earth it might have balanced things out a little but those that we do see are just there to quickly move the story on or demonstrate something about this idyllic world.
Another issue I had with Foster's character was the performance, and this is going to particularly grate with me because I think she's a wonderful actress who isn't on screen enough. I'm not sure if I'm right in saying this but it did feel as though her voice had been redubbed all the way through the film and there was something that just didn't feel right about it. Perhaps it was the accent she was using that didn't sit well with me, but I felt distracted by that and couldn't get closer to her character for it. As I say that is a real shame because I do love her as an actress and was so looking forward to her playing another villain. Shame then the way it turned out.
I also struggled with another main aspect of the film, the pace. It led me to say to some fellow reviewers that this was a lot like District 10 meets Bourne, and while I don't like to compare films to other films it does actually match rather well.
From the beginning we weren't given much room to get acquainted with any of the characters and we raced through the set-up of the story in order to get to the current day, and yet here we gain some important backstory which would pay off later in the film as well as provide some of the main driving force for our hero. While we do get that it all seems a little too rushed and I felt that I ended up missing some important time with the characters to connect with them.
This meant that I felt they were a little flat and come some of the more important moments I didn't really have a lot of empathy or sympathy for them. I could tell when I was supposed to be feeling for them but I just wasn't invested in them. Instead the film raced forward to tell the story at the speed of a Bourne adventure.
That leads me onto the issue of the action sequences rather nicely, action sequences that were blocked and edited to within an inch of their existence causing me to make the comparison with Bourne. It was nothing to do with the leading actor and all to do with the pace of the action, action I felt I was catching up on every time we saw the conclusion.
Of course the pace of the film did make for excitement and entertainment, and there were no moments where I felt that the story needed to hurry up and move on. Quite the opposite, from the storytelling to the action sequences I felt a little more room could have made room for more from the characters and the story alike.
The setup of the story is a little twee, including the meeting the childhood sweetheart at the hospital, but it did give the purpose to the character. That's how I felt about a lot of the plot points, that they were there to make something else happen or allow our lead to make his next choice.
That said there is a good story there and it did provide enough for me to be engaged and at times excited, it's just that it could have been a lot more with some more time, more attention on the character development, and more depth to the characters and their actions overall.
The story also plays out to all the expected beats, for me there weren't any real surprises in there, and the more I think about the film the more I wonder if it was down to a much tighter edit producing a different intent to the one that was written.
I had issues with the exoskeleton idea and I really began to question what it was doing for the lead character apart from occasionally allowing him to throw someone across a room. Even when it seemed like it might do something more than just provide an access port to his brain, the bad guy manages to find another one and the playing field, which didn't really seem uneven before, is evened out. This kind of takes the sting out of the climactic fight between the two main characters.
Visually the film is excellent and once again the director and his team show that they can make science fiction mingle with reality and make it truly believable. Note that none of my criticisms of the film fall onto the effects or the scale of the story, all of that works really well. The people behind the scenes make it effortless to believe in what you are seeing, just as they did in District 9 (Filmstalker review). To go along with the pace and the great visual style there was also a great score that matched that quicker storytelling style well. I found myself pushed on by the musical tracks as much as I was the story at times.
It's not too hard to see that I was disappointed by Elysium, disappointed by the flatness of the characters, plot, storytelling and the pace of the execution. Looking back on it I feel as though there's a better cut waiting to be released, one that hasn't shortened the running time to the detriment of the story and characters, and one that would give them all more depth, weight and made a lot of it feel a little less simple.
The line-up of actors was great and they all had good roles in a decent story, and it did keep me engaged with the pace and music managing to build the excitement in all the right areas. Visually the film was delivered with as much style as Neil Blomkamp's previous with the special effects merging into reality without a second thought or a stray CG pixel. It looked fantastic.
The overall plot idea was very interesting and it all promised so much more than it managed to deliver, even if so much of it felt so closely connected with District 9. All that being said it is an exciting and action packed film that will entertain many and do well at the box office. Perhaps a new cut on DVD and Blu-ray might give it new life or that extra depth I was hoping for.