Michael Sy A Foek’s review published on Letterboxd:
Neil Blomkamp is a director that impressed me very much with District 9. That movie was great and it had a lot of heart and such amazing visuals. It was a science fiction film that I needed to see, something original and new. He was instantly on my list of people I want to follow as a director and I could not wait to see what he would do after District 9. So, naturally, I was very excited to watch his newest film Elysium, and I went in without spoiling myself by watching previews, trailers, features, reviews, etc.
My first impression was that Elysium was personally quite a disappointment. The one thing I truly loved about it was the visuals. Some shots looked absolutely stunning. Seeing the giant Elysium structure floating out in space near to Earth was amazing. I loved the shot in which we get to see all the houses, the greenery, the infrastructure and the shape of it. The other practical and special effects were great too. The robots, ships, and weapons had that unique, gritty, and real look that reminded me of the visuals of District 9. I think Blomkamp and his team deserve some recognition for this because I thought this facet of the film was high quality. The film was surprisingly gory too at times and those effects and designs looked fantastic too.
With that said, there are a lot of things I did not enjoy from the film, such as the story. The themes it tries to convey are so on the nose, so in your face that they feel too shallow and too ham-fisted. It's black and white with no depth, no nuance. Also, the finale was totally ridiculous and does not have any emotional punch to it, even though they tried to force it by inserting another lame childhood flashback there at the end.
Personally, I thought the camera work was terrible too. During the action sequences I could not clearly see what was going on, especially in the close combat moments. This bothered me quite a bit, because it was obvious that a lot of thought and creativity went into the design of a lot of weapons. The shaky cam was way overused to the point of annoyance. And the music score also did not help the film at all.
Another facet of the film that I found lackluster was the acting performances and the lack of depth most characters had. Matt Damon was wasted in this film. He has a lot of range, but the script didn't allow him to actually show that and he did not have much to work with. Sharlto Coplay was decent; I liked how unique his character was. He came across as crazy and menacing at the same time. On the other hand, Jodie Foster was absolutely terrible. Where was her character supposed to come from? What's with the terrible accent? I could not believe they could have missed this performance of her during shooting. The actor playing Spider had some of the worst delivery of all of them.
All in all, I think it's a shame that Elysium, a film that has such great ideas, such amazing effects, and such creative production design was weakened by such a cliché and shallow story. I think Neil Blomkamp is a great talent and I am already looking forward to see his next movie Chappie. However, I think he would benefit by teaming up with some notable screenwriters to create better stories and narratives for his films.