Elysium Movie Review
In 2009, director Neill Blomkamp burst onto the scene with his visionary science fiction film DISTRICT 9. With challenging social and political themes, the inventive story and dazzling realism of the futuristic world was one of my favorite films of the year. Blomkamp’s follow up ELYSIUM is another brilliantly produced film, once again covering relevant topics in a futuristic world. While his sophomore effort may not be quite as masterful as his first, ELYSIUM is still much better than most films you’ll see this year.
Set in the year 2154, earth has been rundown with overpopulation, crime and poverty. The wealthiest upper class have moved to an impressive man-made space station called Elysium that takes elements from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to a whole new level. The rotating donut like atmosphere can easily be seen from earth and is the destination where many dream to gain citizenship. But for now, the poor rely on stolen ships flying in illegally in hopes of quickly gaining access to a state-of-the-art medical care pod that can cure literally anything, before being deported or even killed. Secretly enlisting a dangerous and unstable military expert (performed by a captivatingly ballistic Sharlto Copley) who helps keep the borders safe by any means necessary, Secretary Delacourt (played with steely control by Jodie Foster) will preserve the citizens’ extravagant and luxurious lifestyles at all costs. However, an unexpected opportunity arises when a reluctant hero faces a mission that could bridge the social gap saving the people on earth as well as himself.
ELYSIUM wisely opens with a character driven story, using science fiction as the backdrop. Max (played by the always charismatic yet every man Matt Damon) is one of the few people living in the slums (which is basically everywhere) who actually has a job. We learn so much about his character in his simple journey to work. Children playfully hassle him for money and an old friend tries to convince him to pull a heist job like the old days. When he gets questioned by the local robotic authority, Max is playful with his answer that results in a slight beating and late arrival to his dangerous job as a lowly factory line worker. This type of character development is a necessity few summer blockbusters even attempt anymore. In a short amount of time the audience is able to see that while Max is a kind man, he also has a past that reveals a very accomplished criminal. Gaining more ground on his history, we learn even more about his character.
Dealing with big issues on a big scale but focusing on a small pocket, the screenplay (also by Neill Blomkamp) works elements in beautifully so we are able to get an idea of the people and the extreme state in which our world has become, This is all aided with a terrific performance from Damon who is able to find chemistry with limited time after running into a childhood girlfriend (an increasingly impressive Alice Braga). Thankfully the film doesn’t try to cram an artificial love story and allows a human relationship to override. Certain flashbacks are perhaps over utilized but are also helpful in creating that connection to the characters. Diego Luna, Wagner Moura and William Fichtner all provide fantastic supporting performance that bring a weight and realism to the film.
With exquisite special effects that blend together seamlessly, ELYSIUM will probably be shamefully overlooked come award season because it was so natural. The destructive state of the buildings within the city and the robotic androids along with the beautiful utopia that is Elysium are all sights to behold. Visually the film is second to none. The thought-provoking immigration, health care and social class themes, while obvious, don’t feel heavy handed due mostly to the fact that ELYSIUM is massively entertaining.
The final act goes through some of the generic action-packed motion we’ve seen before, losing some of its creative momentum. We get an idea how the film is going to end before it happens, which makes the final impact a little lackluster. But the journey there is a highly engaging and visual feast that makes for an extremely inventive and enjoyable film.