Neill Blomkamp’s debut film, District 9, took the cinema world by surprise with its heart, intelligence and social commentary packaged with explosions, aliens and mech-suits, making him one of the most buzzed-about new filmmakers in Hollywood. Four long years later audiences finally get his follow-up film, Elysium, stocked with A-list celebrities, a bigger budget and summer tentpole status. While Elysium doesn’t quite deliver the punch of District 9, it still has enough social commentary and brilliantly directed action scenes to be original sci-fi worth seeing. [pullquote_right]Elysium doesn’t quite deliver the punch of District 9.[/pullquote_right]
In the distant future (although it doesn’t feel that distant) of 2154 the Earth has become an over-populated wasteland, resulting in the wealthy constructing a circular satellite “paradise” that orbits the Earth called Elysium. Residents have all bought their way onto the habitat and have access to all they desire, including medical booths in their homes that instantly and painlessly cure anything from broken bones to skin cancer. Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) is a warehouse grunt back on Earth until an accident gives him radiation poisoning, leaving him with five days left to live. With nothing to lose, Max gets caught up in a kidnapping scheme to blackmail his way onto Elysium and make a mad dash to the nearest med-booth before time runs out.
Elysium is a worthy enough follow-up for writer/director Neill Blomkamp and despite being far from perfect, still manages to be an engaging piece of film. The character development is probably the weakest element, resulting in the film’s bureaucratic antagonist Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and Damon’s Max being one-note characters with muddy motivations only brought to life by charismatic performances by the actor/actress. [pullquote_left]Copley is gleefully insane, speaking in his unhinged South African accent and drawing a thin line between hilarious and terrifying.[/pullquote_left]
The performance that really makes the film is Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team) as Delacourt’s mercenary Kruger, who operates as a sleeper agent on Earth for any dirty work that comes up to protect Elysium, such as launching missiles at spacecraft that attempt to make a run for the habitat (Elysium isn’t equipped with weapons). Copley is gleefully insane, speaking in his unhinged South African accent and drawing a thin line between hilarious and terrifying throughout his pursuit of Max.
Sci-fi fans will certainly dig Blomkamp’s eye for his tech designs and his execution of the breathtaking special effects that help tell his story of “haves and have-nots.” Much like in District 9, there is a grounded reality to all the weapons and technology, giving the world a definite “lived-in” vibe and Blomkamp shoots scenes not to showcase the effects but to tell the story, rendering the special effects, although amazing, a secondary part of the shots. [pullquote_right]Blomkamp shoots scenes not to showcase the effects but to tell the story.[/pullquote_right]
The film clocks in at a brisk 109 minutes, bucking this summer’s trend of the bloated blockbuster, which works in Elysium‘s favor since there’s a lot of silly cliches and predictable story arcs making up the core of the movie that didn’t need to be drawn out. Kruger may be the most interesting character in the film, but most of what he does has no motivation and makes no sense, turning him into basically a crazy moustache-twirling maniac, and Secretary Delacourt might as well be named “Secretary Caucasian Government Corruption” because that’s about as much as the audience is given to work with about Foster’s character.
The point of Elysium is to go along for the ride and enjoy the spectacle of the action and special effects, and maybe stay for some slightly heavy-handed social commentary to make you feel like you’re not watching a silly popcorn flick. You are, don’t kid yourself, but you’ll feel a little bit better about it when you watch a film like Elysium.