Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Neill Blomkamp burst onto the scene with District 9, a unique sci-fi film that blended genres and film-making styles while providing both social commentary and blockbuster entertainment. Many proclaimed that sci-fi cinema had an original new voice, and the pressure started mounting on Blomkamp the second he announced that he would be undertaking a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster for his following project. Elysium has arrived to the scrutiny of many. Can Blomkamp prove that he isn’t just a one-hit wonder?
As is usually the case, the future depicted in Elysium is anything but positive. In 2154, Earth has become an overpopulated, garbage-filled, disease-infested place that is inhabited by the poor. Those in the upper-class sectors have left Earth behind to live life on Elysium, an advanced space station that has the perfect environment for the wealthy and elite. Importantly, Elysium has Med-Pods, machines that are capable of curing all types of diseases and ailments. These machines can cure cancer and can even bring back the use of one’s legs.
Matt Damon plays Max, a frustrated man that has lived and worked on Earth his whole life. Recurring flashbacks show that he was raised in an orphanage run by Spanish-speaking nuns. We learn that he led a troubled youth; stealing cars and even going to prison. Max is trying to live a more honest life by working at a demanding factory job. After an industrial accident leaves him with only five days to live, Max must find a way to Elysium. Little does he know, he will end up holding the key to not only his own salvation but the salvation of all those still on Earth.
The film’s social commentary and topical issues are both smartly infused and well-handled. Blomkamp’s future Earth is filled with elements that mirror our present day world: social inequalities, the lack of universal health-care, illegal immigration and the general oppression of the little guy. The film’s liberal ideologies may be completely idealistic but they are portrayed in a matter that works well with the film’s sci-fi plot. This is, after all, a sci-fi blockbuster that needs to please as wide an audience as possible.
The film rolls along at an impressive pace. The future it depicts is carefully unveiled, without racing past important exposition to give us the next action scene. A successful sci-fi film is dependent on its ability to convince us on the logic of the imaginative elements on display. In this regard, the film works wonderfully. The film’s two worlds, Earth and Elysium, are especially convincing. Earth’s slums are all too familiar, as are the lines of workers entering factory jobs. Elysium’s beauty is impressive and its world matches what you would imagine this sort of wealthy environment to look like.
It’s obvious to see the special care that has gone into every element in the film. The weapons, space-crafts and droids all seem like feasible creations. Special mention goes to Max’s exoskeleton that is surgically attached to his body. It’s a convincing piece of engineering that is as slick as it is worn down; and that’s the key to the success of Elysium’s creations.
Matt Damon is great as Max. This character could easily have been a dull action-hero stereotype, but Damon brings a believability to the role. Max isn’t a willing hero, he’s a man that simply wants to survive. It’s a great character arc, seeing a man go from focusing solely on self-preservation, to a sort of saviour figure.
Jodie Foster is quite good as Delacourt, a high-ranking Elysian government minister that orders ships carrying immigrants to be shot down without a second thought. It’s good seeing Foster play a bad-guy type, but her character never quite takes off. It’s Sharlto Copley’s performance that really impresses here. His Kruger is a devilishly entertaining villain, providing us with a bad guy that is as entertaining as he is malicious.
The film is definitely more gory and violent than your average big budget blockbuster, but it never reaches an uncomfortable level. Limbs and bodies are pulverized with the advanced weapons and action-buffs will have a field day with some of the imaginative action sequences that take place.
All in all, Elysium is a confident, imaginative sci-fi flick. It’s great to see a film that has the guts to give us some more “adult-violence” and the brains to infuse left-wing commentary at the same time. I’m happy to report that Neill Blomkamp continues to travel down the right track.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10.