Film Review: Elysium


Science-fiction blockbuster Elysium ticks the boxes in terms of action and special effects. The only real negative is that the film feels a bit hollow.

In the late 21st century, the world has become overpopulated and the wealthy have fled to Elysium, an artificial environment built close to Earth. As a boy, Max dreams of living there, but it is only as an adult that his need becomes more urgent…

Elysium is standard blockbuster fare in that it offer a world-changing narrative through the microcosm of an everyman protagonist. Max is the unlikely hero with a momentous destiny. Elysium plots this protagonist against the might of the corporate overlord in a David versus Goliath style battle.

The dystopian world depicted in Elysium is one that will be familiar to sci-fi film fans. There is nothing wrong with this, merely that that film offers a recognisable dystopia. There are a number of elements which appear to have been influenced by sci-fi films from the last thirty years or so.

Although the setting is markedly different, Elysium evokes the same themes as Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut District 9. Both films depict apartheid, and the stigmatisation of otherness. With Elysium, this is much more of a divide of class lines, rather than race. The film is very much a commentary on inequality and the distribution of wealth.

Whilst the film ticks along as it should, and there are some great action sequences, there is an inescapable feeling of hollowness. There are points at which tension is successfully generated. However, the main characters feel a bit too bland for the audience to fully engage with them. The inclusion of a child (although it makes sense in the overall narrative) feels like a ploy to pull at the heart strings.

Special effects in Elysium are faultless. Performances are also good, with Matt Damon ever the competent action hero. Sharlto Copley is great fun whenever he is on screen, and Jodie Foster is well cast.

Perhaps it is simply the dashed hope that Blomkamp would do something smarter than this, which makes the film a little disappointing. Elysium is proficient and entertaining, but there is a lingering feeling that the film could have gone beyond this.

Film Review: Monsters

Monsters’ 94 minutes feels about three times as long in this science fiction drama. Devoid of any real sense of threat, the film is not engaging in the least, opting for shallow symbolism and ample screen time for two of the most boring protagonists imaginable.

Six years after a probe carrying samples of alien life crash landed in Mexico, have the country is quarantined as an ‘Infection Zone’. An American photographer is tasked with getting his boss’s daughter safely back across the zone to America. With limited travel options, the pair must avoid the monsters that the military struggle to contain…

The main problem with Monsters is that it functions neither as an effective science fiction film, nor as an engaging drama. For a film titled ‘Monsters’, there is no feeling of danger despite the protagonists frequently being placed in situations that call for a sense of precariousness. Coupled with this are two protagonists who are not well crafted enough for the audience to care about their fates, let alone their motivations.

Gareth Edwards wrote and directed the film, as well as acting as cinematographer, production designer and special effects supervisor. If the energy he spent on the visual aesthetics of the film could have been replicated in the narrative department, the film may have been fairly decent. Instead, Monsters is slow moving, which would not be a problem if the protagonists were not so dull.

Kaulder, an ambitious photographer, supposedly sees the light during the course of the movie; photographing dead children, which apparently would be his meal ticket, is just too horrifying when it comes down to it. Sam, meanwhile, contends with the absolutely thrilling issue of whether or not she should marry her fiancé. Performances by Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able are not terrible, yet they lack the impetus to engage viewers.

Monsters brings to mind Close Encounters of the Third Kind to a certain extent. Although Edwards may see this as a compliment, it really is not meant as one. Both films have a slow build, but only Close Encounters has the acumen to reward the audience’s patience with a big pay-off in the finale. Monsters falters even at this last hurdle, offering something visually attractive, but lacking in tension, drama or surprise.

Some may argue that Monsters is a different type of science fiction film. Yet, its use of symbolism (building a wall at the US border to keep the ‘monsters’ of Mexico out) simply shows a continuation of one of the pivotal conventions of the genre. Furthermore, the allegory here is so superficial it eradicates any thought-provoking potential. Edwards may have thought he was doing something different with his climax, but it is hardly groundbreaking or highly original.

Visual effects are very good, especially considering the film’s low budget. Edwards captures some beautiful imagery in Mexico, as well as some effectively dystopian shots later in the film. This, however, is not enough to save Monsters. Vertigo Films may wish to play up comparisons to District 9, but Monsters lacks the charm and energy of Neill Blomkamp’s fantastic 2009 film.