Neill Blomkamp makes ugly movies set in ugly worlds filled with awful people. He presents ham-fisted sci-fi morality plays about hapless protagonists. He always includes at least one utterly nasty scene with someone vomiting*, and he employs an epileptic camera to boot. These are not all automatically negatives, but I must admit I find nothing about this combination of artistic trademarks particularly entertaining. I did enjoy Elysium quite a bit better than District 9, but that really isn’t saying much considering that I straight-up hated District 9.
Like, can I actually shoot at this?
Elysium’s blessing and curse is that Blomkamp downshifts slightly on the bile. He still skewers humanity with all the subtlety of a Tyler Perry joint, but there are occasional moments where you invest in some characters. However, he seems confused about exactly how to graft some hopefulness onto his “people suck” schtick, and so the overall narrative winds up somewhat incoherent. But at least I can understand what’s happening in the action sequences despite the shaky cam. They’re all actually really well-staged.
Judging from interviews with Matt Damon about his Bourne movies, the actor clearly finds grim, blank action roles like this one interesting. Elysium’s Max De Costa is beaten down by life, but remains determined to keep going. And I have no complaints about Damon’s performance as Max; he is solidly effective in the role. At the same time, I can’t help but think that they should have cast a Latino actor. It certainly would’ve added some extra oomph to the immigration parable with a non-white hero. Plus, almost all of the secondary Earth-bound characters were cast as people of color.
I tried to go back to the coverage from Elysium’s release to see if there was any mention of originally considering anyone other than Damon, and all I found out was that Blomkamp originally considered both Eminem and another, lesser-known white rapper for role. Ultimately, Damon was cast just for his higher profile and his nice-guy accessibility. That strikes me as weird because I would’ve guessed that the character was originally written as Latino and then changed to accommodate Damon. Seems like a missed opportunity.
And now for a discussion of the ending with SPOILERS. Continue reading