by Nick Casaletto
In 2009, director Neil Blomkamp surprised everyone with his low-budget sci-fi hit District 9. The film took audiences by storm, being a gritty, smart, and different film in the genre that was even nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The film community has been anticipating his followup project Elysium for some time now. Now Blomkamp has a bigger budget, a larger scope, A-list actors, and another original story to tell. How does it stack up to his 2009 hit predecessor?
Elysium takes place in the year 2154, in an almost post-apocalyptic world. The wealthy live on a space station entitled Elysium, where there is no sickness, no aging, and no war or crime. It is a utopia that only the very upper class can enjoy. The rest of the world lives on Earth, where the few that are actually employed work for very little money. Max (Matt Damon) has spent his whole life dreaming to go to Elysium. He is an ex-car thief who is trying to get his life back on track while working the line at a Robot assembly warehouse. Things take a tragic turn for the worse when Max gets into a rather unhealthy situation, to put it lightly. He now has to go up to Elysium, as his life and the lives of others depend on it.
Walking into this film, I had somewhat low expectations. I like to go into every film with an open mind and judge it fairly and as a whole. The thing is, I am a huge science fiction junkie, so I will try my best to not be bias. I can honestly say that I had a ton of fun with this film and was truly surprised in the best way possible.
Director Neil Blomkamp is a very visual director. So far, his films have looked nothing short of extraordinary. His attention to detail really shows, yet he does not over glamor the futurist technology either. The robots look realistic, as do the spaceships. He is not afraid to add some grittiness to his universes he creates, and I truly appreciate that as a film-goer and science fiction aficionado.
It is very rare when Hollywood green lights an R-rated, original sci-fi film. Blomkamp does not hold back with the language and goriness of this world he created. The film has stakes and consequences. When circumstances didn’t go right, the consequences were present on screen and didn’t have a “quick fix,” which Hollywood loves to do nowadays. This is a film that’s dark and gritty tone actually works for the material and story Blomkamp is telling, a lot like District 9 did.
Matt Damon does a stellar job as our protagonist, Max. He oozes charm and likeability as well as hopelessness and selfishness. There is no denying that Damon has a strong presence on the screen, as the guy is one of the best actors working today. However, he is slightly overshadowed by the creepy, over-the-top villain named Kruger, played magnificently by Sharlto Copley. It is no doubt in my mind that Copley stole the show acting-wise. He was truly evil in every sense of the word. For someone who played such a likeable character in Blomkamp’s previous film, his versatility as an actor truly shines here. Some may argue that he is to over-the-top, but I feel that is how the character was written and how he was supposed to be portrayed.
Jodie Foster doesn’t have much to do as Delacourt. She bursts out orders in a weird, futuristic South African accent, and doesn’t add a whole lot to the story itself. She is forgettable, but she is not in the film enough to really drag it down for me. Max’s lifelong friend and love interest, Frey, played by Alice Braga, didn’t do much for me either. The script gave Braga a lot to do, having an emotional arc in her own storyline. However, I just didn’t buy her in the role. Her emotions were flat, unbelievable, and just plain terrible at times.
For some, the film might seem a little too preachy. The backdrop and allegory of healthcare is a clear message Blomkamp is trying to convey here. I personally felt the message was more subtle than not; it wasn’t shoved down our throats like some critics are saying it is. I feel this message makes us relate to the story and characters more and brings us into this very futuristic world in a somewhat believable way.
The cinematography was all in all rather impressive. The buildup to the fights were outstanding, and the score was great as well. The use of shaky camera kind of took me out of the film, however. We would get a great buildup between good and evil and when the two parties collided, we wouldn’t get to see a lot of the fight — most notably at the climactic battle of the film. Not all of the sequences were like this, but enough for me to notice and mention it.
Overall, I was thoroughly surprised with Elysium. In a summer movie season that was mediocre at best, it was refreshing to have something new at the table. If only Hollywood would green light more original films, I would be a much happier film-goer. Unfortunately, I feel this film won’t make its money back at the box office. Very rarely does an R-rated sci-fi film without a built-in fan base make some bank at the box office. So if you are a fan of these types of films, I urge you to go out and see Elysium this weekend. It’s worth your full price of admission, even the extra IMAX prices, and it truly should be seen on the big screen.
Final Grade: B+