Elysium (2003) Movie Review

If you approach it correctly, the South Korean animation “Elysium” really isn’t that bad. I mean, it is quite unremarkable, that goes without saying. The whole movie is essentially a 70-minute episode of “The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” (or whatever title the show is going under in its current incarnation), complete with outlandish story, predictable archetypes, and just enough exposition to string together a series of fights between giant robots in heavily populated residential areas made of miniature models (or in this case, CGI renderings). Personally I’ve never been anti-“Power Rangers”. I always thought they were mindless fun, with enough faux action to keep things from getting completely boring.

So is the case with “Elysium”, about an alien race called the Elysians who invades Earth after one of their ambassadors is killed during a diplomatic mission. A full-scale invasion of Earth is ordered by the Elysian’s supreme commander, a General name Necros. Using superior war machines, including giant skyscraper-size walking robots called mechas, the Elysians easily conquer Earth, leaving small remnants hiding in underground shelters. Soon, we learn that three of the survivors are destined to lead the human leftovers to freedom — or at least out of those dinky underground shelters.

One by one, the chosen humans are whisked away from certain death by a mysterious woman who lives in another underground base where three giant mechas also reside. The humans are told they were destined to pilot these mechas against the alien invasion, which seems like very poor planning, since it’s still only three human mechas against a neverending wave of Elysian mechas. You’d think whoever thought up this wacky prophecy thing would have done a better job, being that they could see the future and plan for an invasion years in advance, I mean. Then again, you can pretty much say the whole movie is the product of poor planning.

“Elysium” uses computer animation, relying on the same stale technique that fills up afternoon cartoon blocks on TV airwaves on a daily basis for the last, oh, 5 years or so. Which means “Elysium” is insanely late in the animation game, especially considering the film’s South Korean pedigree. From the same people who gave us the visually stunning “Wonderful Days”, the CGI look proffered in “Elysium” is a major disappointment. Expectations, as it were, are no friends of “Elysium”.

The reader shouldn’t mistake the above synopsis of the movie for potential. If anything, the prose probably made “Elysium” sound better than it actually is. Lordy, there’s just not a lot of movie here. At just 70 minutes, it’s easy to hypothesize that a large chunk of narration might have been cut for better pacing. As a result “Elysium” has one thing in common with “Wonderful Days”: had it been longer, and story points allowed to blossom, the movie might have benefited by being more well-rounded. As it stands, “Elysium” feels choppy, like a series of episodes rather than a whole movie, with the timeline jumping all over the place without nary a cursory legend as to how much time has passed.

Of course a decent story would have been aided by lead characters that didn’t make the viewer conjure up words like “bland” and “dull” and “really, really uninteresting”. With “Elysium”, our hero is Van, a pizza delivery guy who is in love with a ballerina who subsequently gets fried by an Elysian mecha. Later, Van’s life is saved by Nix, an Elysian who switches sides and becomes Van’s substitute girlfriend. Between those moments, the film manages to steal the pod race from “Star Wars: Episode 1” and incorporate Lucas’ R2D2 and C3P0 robots into one droid called “Oz”.

Van and Nix may be dull leads, but it’s not like they have a lot to work with. Jung-hoon Park’s screenplay is awful, with a lot of really important exposition left out. It’s revealed that not only is General Necros the real cause of the war, but that he actually just wants to take control of some super duper ancient power that resides in the Earth in order to “take over the universe”. Not that the script was smart enough to slowly introduce this element. It just shows up, and we’re just supposed to accept it. Which is true of the whole movie. Things, people, and places just sort of show up and we’re just supposed to accept it without bothering to address the hundreds of questions that arises.

“Elysium” is just not very good. There are a lot of battles between the Elysian and human mechas, which takes on the aura of Godzilla’s battles. To wit: once the mechas start slashing at each other with their gigantic swords (where do they keep those swords, I wonder?) all the background becomes incidental. But thankfully these frequent interludes of battling giant mechas make up one of the film’s few saving graces. The other involves the Paul character, a bellicose teen that travels with Oz, his cowardly flying orb. The duo manages to liven things up against all odds and actually make the film almost watchable.

Well, almost.

Jae-woong Kwon (director) / Jung-hoon Park (screenplay)

Buy Elysium on DVD