Sunday 25 August 2013

Elysium (2013) - Neill Blomkamp

It's 2154.  Earth is a polluted, perpetually sprawling metropolis; a wasteland of the third world policed by droids.  Above in space floats Elysium, home to the rich, the elite and the materialistic; a world free from war, sickness and strife.

It's a familiar set-up, with overpopulation being a major theme in many dystopian science-fiction films - perhaps the most pertinent parallel being Pixar's Wall-E.  Blomkamp (who wrote and directed Elysium) uses the film as a parable for immigration and segregation, similar to his previous film District 9.  Where Earth is a hodgepodge of multiculturalism and ethnic minorities accompanied by a dubstep-techno soundtrack, Elysium is a clinical yet beautiful haven for a predominantly white population (including Jodie Foster's cold-hearted Secretary of Defense - the victim of some terrible over-dubbing).  The concept is sound and ripe with contemporary political themes, yet the storytelling is clunky and incredibly heavy-handed following a lengthy exposition.

Just as Earth is multi-lingual and shot through dizzying hand-camera, the film itself is a disorientating mix of cinematic languages and tonal shifts.  From the political themes, to the high-tech computer wizardry, the Terminator style cybernetic action, saccharine ending and misplaced, unnecessary gore from Sharlto Copley's sadistic mercenary Kruger, Elysium is wildly inconsistent - a film that's difficult to emotionally invest in.

What it does have is style.  Elysium itself is stunningly shot, though its look will be all too familiar to fans of the Mass Effect series of video games.  Speaking of which, the use of Matrix style slow-motion and over the shoulder shots feels like video game footage and ensures the action is visceral and intense.

Ultimately, Elysium is an interesting concept stifled by over-complication and too many ideas poorly edited together.  Blomkamp has attempted to create a blockbuster with brains, but any brains are soon exploded across the screen in a bloody mess that sends us plummeting back to Earth.