Saturday, 31 August 2013

JOHNNY ELYSIUM (spoilers at the end)

Neill Blomkamp; you are a master of visual effects. You amazed us all with the ocular splendour that was District 9. We marvelled at how you turned your home city into the backdrop of something that looked both truly remarkable and grounded in a sense of foreboding realism. You gained a position in 'Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World' thanks to your imaginative flair.

Why oh why are you such a lazy story teller? You should be better than this!

Welcome the future, 2154 AD to be exact, where humans live in peace, prosperity and blissful happiness on the rotating Sheriff Badge looking space station/colony called Elysium (for no other reason than you can always rely on Greek mythology to come up with something that sounds cool) This is a place where everyone has a white walled mansion house that they never seem to use because they're too busy 'twisting by the pool' and getting a tan you have to peel off with a blow torch. One of the best things however about this place is that due to a handy, non-defined medi-bay device, which comes included with every house, is that no one ever dies.

Ever. Of anything.

Even terminal illnesses like cancer or getting your face blown off by a hand grenade can all implausibly be cured by this medi-bayNo explanation is given as to how it works or even exists so I can only assume they must have found away of reverse engineering the Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and implemented it's design mechanics. The functionality of these things is so preposterous that I'm going refer to them as Medi Grails from the remainder of the review.

The future is truly a wonderful place for all people it would seem but only as long as you can afford it. So what is the cost of such orbital luxury? Well you first have to be mega rich, then you have to sell your soul and then burn down the nearest orphanage, preferably using kiddies teddy bears as fuel for the arson. To put it simply you have to be evil and not have a flicker of humanity in the cold empty shell that has long ceased to be a person 

So the future is kind of like now then, except we don't have to cope with the idea of an immortal Simon Cowell watching us from his man-made, space haven. I think we have the better deal to be honest.

So what of those who make daisy chains rather than choking puppies? Well, they're all on Earth which is still around but it seems everything has been Johannesburged  (because Blomkamp just can't seem to let his home city go, can he?) So what we have is slum cities of desolate architecture and everything washed in a perplexing shade of deep beige. People are pretty much dying of every illness known to man due to poor health care, a complete absence of Medi Grails and means of employment having a certain clause of death if you get a bit tardy with your time keeping, broken arm or not.

Of course the black market tickets to Elysium are in high demand, as are the laser tag ID's which allows the use of the Medi Grails. Without these ID's however, computer says 'no' and leaves the poor felon of identity fraud to die slowly on the floor, like the good peasant they are.

Apparently they're not accepting discount vouchers anymore either. Fascists

That Duck Hunt dog has laughed it me for the last time..
Enter our hero Max Damon; a down on his luck kind of guy who as a child wanted nothing more than to live on Elysium with his childhood sweetheart 'Frey' (Alice Braga) but his dreams of an immortal, TOWIE tanned life are abruptly cut short by the fact that he is skint and pretty much always will be, to which the good nuns who look after him are only too happy to point out and back to down to earth with big ol reality check and locket carrying a sentimental picture of... well the Earth.

Somewhere in the midst of absent exposition, Max looses contact with Frey and proceeds to ignore his holy teachings and begin the Elysium fund again by apparently becoming the future equivalent of Memphis Raines (looowww riiiidderrrr) Convent schooling once again showing it's success rate but to be fair this back story plot point is never brought up again through the entire rest of the film.

In a world of such extreme plutocracy and the laws being enforced by incorruptible and humourless police robots, this goes about as well as can be expected, so he is now a paroled ex con with an asbo on his ankle and works in a factory where they fabricate the same kind of robot cops that put him away in the first place (oh the irony) It seems his main job is to microwave them for no real reason other than to be the cause of an accident which starts the actual plot (if it is explained I sure as hell missed it) so what happens is he gets trapped in one of the huge microwaves and gets zapped with enough radiation to give him the superpowers of Dr Manhattan or it completely destroy his immune system, internal organs and gives him 5 days left to live. Given we're going for gritty, no nonsense realism as is demonstrated by the docu-action filming technique, I'll let you decide which one is correct.

His only way of curing himself is the sacred Medi Grails of Elysium, so the entire film now stems from him not wanting to die and what lengths he will go to stay alive. Which includes getting outfitted with a roll-cage that the film calls an exo-skeleton and a some kind of memory storage that allows him to smuggle data inside his head. With these upgrades complete he goes on one last job to pay for his passage to Elysium for a longer, less irradiated life.

Gandalf the Wired
I have four main problems with this film; one of which is that despite an interesting premise it's execution is so boring and the characters are so stale that I felt no investment in their situation. Despite Damon doing a fair job I just didn't care about his character and due to him being our lead that does present a rather glaring issue. The most interesting characters are the villains, namely the shadowy, yet always dressed in grey/white/silver, Delacourt, the security chief of Elysium; played by Jodie Foster (the only way I found out the character name was on IMDB) and the unrecognisable Sharlto Copley as the psychotic, mercenary hobo assassin; Kruger. They certainly have presence and it's good to see Foster back in a big mainstream film but we learn next to nothing about them and as such their interest is very one dimensional. Also I couldn't quite place what kind of accent Foster was going for, one minute it sounded sinister British, then jolly Polish and then alluring French so as a stab in the dark I'm guessing in the script her character was described as 'European' and Foster took it a bit too literally. Speaking of accents, Copley's South African accent is at times so thick that he becomes unintelligible. One point where he has having a stand off with Max and is shouting at him over the roar of his futuristic VTOL aircraft, I was half expecting Max to say

'Sorry I didn't get that, could you repeat that last part?'

You thought Bane was bad? He's got nothing on Kruger. Also it doesn't help that his accent actually sounds funny at times, well enough to me chuckle or roll my eyes. To be honest that actually went in Elysium's favour because I'm hard pressed to think of a film that is just so soulless and lacking in humour (apart from one very early scene with a parole robot which the charm is never bested or repeated) It makes it so difficult to watch; so plodding, so grim and just not a pleasant viewing experience at all.

The other issue I have is with the goddamn awful camera work. I can't express how much I hate 'shaky cam' but I have to accept that it is here and directors will choose to use it. That's fine but please pick scenes that warrant it. An action scene fair enough but when you're following a character simply walking down a corridor of a hospital and the camera man has forgotten he's filming because he's too busy trying to swot away a wasp, I would say that as a director you have lost focus on what in essence you are trying to do which is 'create a visual medium that is compelling to watch'  It's like listening to a radio play consisting only of keywords, you get the gist of what is happening but it becomes pretty dull fairly quickly. Honestly I think I would enjoy it more with audio description, and a brail script so I can know for certain what Kruger was going on about.

Apart from visual effects, which are impressive Elysium offers nothing new to the genre and anything it does offer you can't see or keep track of anyway. I was really hoping for the theme of the film to be a clash of ideals which would result in a stand off between escaping the reality of life and living a never ending fantasy world that makes you less human with each passing day, the resolution ultimately concluding with the rejection of this artificial immortality in favour of being able to live the life we are granted how ever long or short. But noooo, screw that noise! Instead what we get is a moralistic approach as basic as Robin Hood; the poor are good, the rich are bad, the poor will steal from the rich to help the poor.

Ground breaking stuff here. Leave some of the creativity for the next Adam Sandler film though won't you.

You may notice that there's a certain suffix added to the title of this review and that leads me to the problem number 4. A big pile of rip-off salt to add to the already festering originality wound, namely an old cyberpunk film from the mid 90's.

 I don't want to throw accusations or anything but I bet you would find of copy of this dvd in Blomkamp's entertainment centre. Or at the very least he watched the film during writing of the script.

Think I'm typing out of my arse? Watch both films then complete this list:


A dystopian distant future where everyone but the mega rich are dying - check


Unlikable protagonist who's main goal is purely selfish for 80% of the film - check


Main plot device being information stored inside head of protagonist that could change the known world and he will die unless he gets it out in a arbitrary time limit - check


Character called Spider who tells the protagonist what data is being carried in their head, initially is a dick but ends up helping him out  - check


Bearded , muscle bound, cybernetically enhanced antagonist who talks funny and will not die - check check check check CHECK!!

'It's time, it's time, it's JESUS time'

You know what? I actually prefer Johnny Mnemonic to this film. Main reason is that although it may be silly, it has enough self awareness to realise this and as such is filmed rather tongue in cheek and is full of humorous moments. Plus you can call it many things but boring isn't one of them. It's easier to watch and it's not unjustifiably self indulgent either.

As for Elysium, I'm giving it a 1 out of 5  (worst film I've seen all year for just being too bland, uninteresting at times unwatchable and a little too pleased with itself for my liking)


Self indulgent is not something I have a problem with, if it's done well and if it actually makes sense. Elysium doesn't. There is no battle of wills or the difficult choice between humanity and immortality

In the end Max may sacrifice himself to make everyone equal but the film ends with a fleet Medi Grail carrying ships landing on earth, presumably starting a world wide healing of 6 billion + people. Who will now no longer need to die due to the access of the Medi Grails

That doesn't strike me as a very good thing, it certainly didn't work out too well in 'Torchwood'.

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