Movie Review: Elysium
Elysium is director Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to District 9 (2009). Blomkamp showed immense promise when he extracted a politically savvy sci-fi thriller from a relatively modest $30 million budget. It was technically slick, and packed a punch with its political commentary about racism. Flash forward four years, and we’ve got more of the same, only this time it’s a technically slick film with triple the budget and a political commentary about social class warfare and universal healthcare. Boiled down to the simplest of terms, Elysium is just a tale of the haves versus the have nots.
In the year 2154, those blessed with the means live in decadent oblivion on a cushy space station called Elysium that floats above a sullied, overpopulated earth. The Elysium inhabitants reside on exquisitely manicured plantations and spend their days lounging around their infinity pools with nary a care in the world. Each house is outfitted with a pod that can be used to heal anything from cuts and bruises to cancer.
In vast contrast, those left on earth struggle on a day to day basis and live in a relative state of anarchy in bombed out cites policed by robots. Max (Matt Damon) is an ex con trying to make an honest living at a factory job. Factory owner John (William Fichtner) keeps a watchful eye over the day to day activities from a glass office overlooking the floor. His plebian foremen are not even allowed to breathe in his direction when they converse.
After Max is exposed to a deadly level of radiation at his job, a robot unceremoniously tells him that he has five days to live. Max’s only hope to live is to travel (illegally) to Elysium. Max agrees to participate in a heist to download sensitive information from his former boss’s brain in return for a ticket to Elysium. He is painfully outfitted with an exoskeleton and a hard drive attached to his brain in order to accomplish his task. To the film’s credit, this doesn’t make him superhuman in any way, and Damon is perfect at convincing us that this is just an everyman with a slightly souped-up suit of armor.
Jodie Foster’s well-coifed and well-heeled secretary of defense maintains the status quo on Elysium by casually shooting down any shuttles that attempt to land on Elysium without permission. Foster rarely stumbles, but here her character comes across as cartoonish and one-dimensional. Her go-to man to perform her dirty work is Kruger (Sharlto Copley) a rogue assassin who prefers wielding a machete to a shoulder fired missile. Unfortunately, Kruger’s character is mired by an indecipherable accent of Copley and a complete lack of motive. It’s never established why he is the secretary’s lackey. If he’s t that bloodthirsty, there is plenty of opportunity for random bloodletting on earth.
Alice Braga appears as Max’s childhood friend Frey and provides an extra motivation for Max to reach Elysium when it is revealed that she has a daughter with incurable leukemia. Their backstory is revealed through flashbacks. Frey softens the story a bit but ultimately feels like a storyline convenience. Characters are not the strongpoint of this film.
However, Blomkamp has created another technically superior product. His dystopian vision is fully realized with gritty realism on earth and sleek precision on Elysium. The space ships and shuttles look realistic and the hand-to-hand combat scenes are well executed. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch recreates the bleached out look of District 9, and it works perfectly. There’s also a pretty amazing film score from Ryan Amon that ominously looms in the background.
There’s no shortage of action or tension during the running time of the film. It just happens to stall a bit when there is a final showdown between Max and Kruger, which just looks like something we’ve already seen time and time again. That’s not enough to mar the promise of Blomkamp’s film career. Elysium is a solid sophomoric effort.