"But this isn't the first time a movie has strained so hard to issue a topical message -- the poor Latino Earthlings who keep trying to sneak onto the space station are even called 'illegals' -- that it lost track of basic storytelling imperatives."
So there's no way it could include a "topical message" about the "poor Latino Earthlings," and still deliver a story? Too tall an order? What those "imperatives" of Smith's are he never quite does explain, but I'm sure he should get on the phone to Hollywood post haste, since he clearly has the rule book all worked out somewhere.
So there's a sampling of the professional response to a deeply meaningful film about class inequality and extreme poverty, the inherent unfairness of today's very real global system. Of course the film isn't perfect, and tastes really do vary -- I know that more than anyone -- but there are larger agendas at work here. The people who hold these positions of cultural criticism really, really want to keep them. That means they are part of the club. That's how they are trained, and that's why they are hired. Chomsky and Herman elaborated on this in Manufacturing Consent .
So, what are my honest, unpaid, unsponsored views on Elysium's weaknesses? I do have a few.
I'm not sure how much pressure a man like Blomkamp is under working in the studio system with more than $100m of their money to gamble with. The pressures to alter and to rely on old formulas are likely enormous. That's how visual and audible cliches end up in the film, the same types of things we've seen before.
The music swells and punches up, as is the standard operating procedure. This was a noticeable weakness, without a lot of thought behind it. The soundtrack could have used a rethinking, another opinion, some more variety and less beating you over the head at a bare minimum.
Jodie Foster is very good, but she may not have pulled off whatever accent she seems to have been going for. This didn't bother me all that much, but others commented on the dubbing not being completely in sync during several scenes.
District 9 also resolved with a massive battle between the protagonist and antagonist. There was a do-over quality here -- with Vickus, Sharlto Copley, unexpectedly flipped around to be the baddie. Apparently he's been working out. Blomkamp resorts to a big mano a mano bludgeoning Damon vs. Copley, to finish the film, which could have been more ingenious, something new, something worthy of the rest of the film. The villain could have done himself in, perhaps, but we can all play armchair quarterbacks on how to climax a massive studio action picture. Sometimes straight violence is what works. What felt weak is that Copley may have been a tool of the real antagonist, a hired gun, but by film's climax he's no longer on the payroll. He's not a part of the system then. His vengeance against Damon isn't really in defense of the class system of oppression, but more of a personal vendetta. That is a weakness that didn't quite resolve satisfactorily. He was simply another obstacle by that point, and no longer represented the system that was the true enemy of most of humanity. This subtle distinction weakened the story, and it should have been re-examined.
The following scene does, however, get the story back on track. Damon's sacrifice to change the world and the entire solar system is a direct act against the status quo, a revolution, a defiance, a resetting of the rules. One man with nothing to lose is a powerful force, the kind that sends shivers down the backs of tyrants. What shakiness rattled the story is swiftly forgotten as the real stakes and the real meaning of Elysium are brought full circle.
Joe Giambrone publishes Political Film Blog and other nasty bits of bluster.
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