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Movie Review: Elysium

elysium-firstposter-full2Elysium is one my most anticipated movies of the summer. More than Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, really any of the comic movies or other “summer blockbusters.”  Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds. Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, the genius behind District 9, I expected another allegorical sci-fi tale whose special fx looked more impressive than the budget would make you think possible.

The movies boasts an impressive cast headlined by Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, the film can be summed up as a science fiction heist movie. I went into the film with a general idea as to the plot, you can figure that out from the various trailers and advertisements. The overall plot isn’t a shocker at all. It’s straightforward and the overall arc isn’t surprising at all, especially the ending. There are numerous small details though that did catch me off-guard. I had the general idea right, but not many of the specifics as to the “how.” And if you go into the film knowing what’s going to happen, there’s enough in the small details that’ll surprise you.

And it’s those small details that are amazing. The movie has a modest budget of $115 million, but looks like it should be double that, and that’s Blomkamp’s strength as his vision. The sets, the fx, the guns, the tools, the robots, it’s all amazing, beyond amazing. This is a science fiction film to the utmost level with a vision and look that challenges the best of the best. It all flows nicely and every detail just adds tot he movie enjoyment. The level of detail is amazing, down to small tattoos and marks on skin that makes the vision stand out.

The story too, while straightforward is fun and enjoyable. Though it’s predictable, Blomkamp also has the ability to do what great sci-fi does, reflect upon the real world and deliver an allegory. Elysium, and District 9, are both commentary on today’s society. In this case it’s pretty obviously about the 99% vs. 1% and how we treat those least fortunate in society and how the most powerful do or do not give back. That’s a hammer to the audience as far as message, but at no point does the story feel preachy. A thing that did catch me was that the film mostly takes place on Los Angeles, but other than some text, there’s nothing there to reinforce this is the US. Instead we actually see a South African flag on a vehicle. The film was shot in Mexico and looks like it was shot in Mexico. A minor quibble, but an important one.

Damon, Foster, the whole cast are good. It’s nothing that blows me away, but they do a real good job. There’s no Oscar worthy performances, but nothing that causes issues either. In fact, I liked the supporting cast a lot, each character with their own quirk and unique feel about them.

The biggest issue I had with the movie is Blomkamp’s direction. Here, he covers up some of the fx limitations with an overuse of shaky cam. It’s not a few scenes, the camera bounces around throughout the entire film, this isn’t one for those with motion sickness. Even at quiet moments, when characters are just standing around talking, shaky cam. Shaky cam is the bullet time of modern movies. Used too much, especially at inappropriate moments. The movie would be damn near perfect if it wasn’t used nearly as much.

Overall, Elysium is an excellent follow up to District 9. Blomkamp does slip a bit as expected moving into the studio system and given more of a budget to play with, but his vision is undeniable and commendable. Here’s to what’s next, whatever it is, it’ll have a strong vision and voice and that’s something I can get behind. Elysium is sci-fi done right in both look and message and one of the more entertaining films this summer. One that entertains and and makes you think, even just for a shallow minute.

Direction: 6 Acting: 7.5 Plot: 7.5 Overall: 7.5

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