Elysium is the latest film by acclaimed director Neill Blomkamp and it delivers a spectacular and richly detailed world that is startlingly realistic. But does Elysium measure up to the stunning success of his previous film, the shockingly original and politically adept District 9? Not quite, but even still Elysium is a sci-fi epic worth seeing, even if it is more for the incredible action than for the rich political commentary.
The title Elysium references a space-station that the wealthy created when Earth became over-populated and polluted. In this floating fortress the rich have no fear of disease or aging because of breakthrough machines that eradicate disease or physical trauma with a few simple button presses. On Earth, the rest of the population live in utter destitution, forced to man the factories that churn out the machines that keep them subjugated. While these poor masses may desire to go to Elysium to cure their various abnormalities, there is a strict code that forbids access to any that are not “citizens of Elysium” aka billionaires and their families. So naturally the plot centers around the character Max (played by Matt Damon), who must break into Elysium for medical aid. He is prevented from doing so by Secretary Rhodes and Agent Kruger (played by Jodie Foster and Carlto Copley respectively). While the former is a pretty strait-forward, if diabolical, politician, the latter is a truly sadistic and incredibly compelling sleeper agent who is tasked with bringing down Max. Max is outfitted in a type of exo-skeleton super-suit; think the suit from Aliens except shrunken down to the size of a man and you get the basic idea. The fights between Kruger and Max are some of the best I have seen this summer, and while they may be over quickly Blomkamp’s use of sharp camera angles and tracking shots keep the fights in focus while amping up the intensity. Blomkamp really flexes his muscle when it comes to smart use for special effects and fight choreography, because each frame is beautifully constructed from a fast paced hand to hand duel to a robot being shattered from a explosive round piece-by-piece. Jaw-dropping stuff.
But while these fights and the effects throughout are incredible, I go to a Blomkamp film expecting a complex and original narrative with political acumen. Blomkamp certainly is trying to maintain his reputation for tackling political issues; his engagement in the 99 percent debate is worn on his film’s proverbial sleeve, but the film lacks the moral complexities that made District 9 such a standout. This is a pretty black and white world where the rich are the bad guys and the poor are misunderstood victims. While Copley (who also starred in District 9) turns in another stellar performance that adds some much needed complexities to this otherwise predictable drama, Matt Damon is unable to create the morally ambiguous anti-hero that Blomkamp seems to want him to be. Perhaps it is just because Damon is too darn likeable, but I never bought into the idea that he was the tatted-up, selfish badass that he was made out to be. Because of this, there was never a question to how this film was going to turn out. Unlike District 9, where I loathed and questioned Copley’s protagonist until the very end, I was never invested in Matt’s character in the same way. This is not to say I didn’t care about Max or the fate of this depressingly realistic society, but the film suffered from a level of predictability that was unexpected in a Blomkamp sci-fi epic.
But still it must be said that a Blomkamp’s film still is superb and miles above most sci-fi’s like Oblivion or After Earth. What Blomkamp does is effortlessly create a rich, living world that is completely believable. If anything, I felt that the film was a bit short, and I would have liked to see more glimpses into how this world was run on a day-to-day basis before everything went crazy. Because of Blomkamp’s incredibly detailed worldbuilding and the awesome action I am giving Elysium a solid B.
So, what did you think? Did you see the film or want to see it? How do you think it compares with Blomkamp’s previous work? What about the political and social elements, was he too obvious or did he spark some interesting ideas about the class divides in society? Let me know what you think in the comments below..