He Can Save Us All
Receiving world-wide critical praise and commercial success, District 9 (2009) was always going to be a difficult film to follow, seeing as it reached heights few foresaw nor expected especially from a first-time feature director with a limited budget and recourses. Four years after District 9’s release, South African director Neill Blomkamp returns with science-fiction action thriller Elysium. This time round Blomkamp has a much bigger budget at his disposal and obviously bigger ideas, but having more money don’t necessarily mean he has produced a better film.
The story opens in the year 2154 where two separate classes of people exist; the super-wealthy who now reside on a sickness-free, beautiful pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest who are living on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Government official Security Delacourt (Jodi Foster) who will stop at nothing to impose anti-immigration laws, preserving the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium for future generations, attempts to reset the station, ultimately giving herself the power to permanently enforce these stringent laws. When Max (Matt Damon), a hard-working reformed criminal, is accidentally exposed to radiation at work, giving him only a few days to live, he desperately seeks out former boss, Spider (Wanger Moura), a criminal known for illegally attempting to fly people up to Elysium. Desperate for survival, Max pleads Spider to put him on the next flight to Elysium to heal the fatal radiation poisoning his blood. Backed into a corner, Max, with a military exoskeleton holding his weakened body together, is forced to take on a formidable mission for Spider, that if successful, will not only save his life, but could also bring equality to the two divided worlds.
Written and directed by Blomkamp, the world of Elysium, much like District 9, is presented to audiences in a way that is somewhat believably realistic; the future Earth, although in ruins and with advanced cyborg militias, still looks and feels like the Earth we know, only decaying and damaged, and Elysium, although fantastical, looks like a habitation where humans could actually reside. The design of Elysium itself is quite spectacular; Blomkamp has truly created a visually stunning environment unlike anything presented on screen before, filled with luxurious ultra-modern architecture and lush vegetation, it’s a place one would really want to live.
With an inspired script, written by Blomkamp, Elysium, although a science-fiction spectacle, relies on cast performances as it tells a very human story. Damon gives a genuine performance as Max and having an actor to the calibre of Damon in this sort of film really elevates it to blockbuster level. But the real stand-out performance in this film is Sharlto Copley, District 9 (2009), who plays the South African mercenary Kruger with such ferocious intensity, literally stealing every scene with his twisted and vicious portrayal. Jodie Foster, Panic Room (2002), is quite rigid as Delacourt and doesn’t really do much apart from walking and sitting although does a credible job with the limited screen time given.
Elysium takes some time to get off its feet; it’s not until about the half-way point where it really starts to shine. Once the action begins, there’s literally no slowing down, going from one epic action set piece to the next. It’s evident that Blomkamp comes from the world of online gaming as some of the action sequences and satellite-view shots resemble what one might expect to see when playing the latest Call of Duty or Halo game, with inventive futuristic weaponry and creative ways of dismembering people from exploding ninja stars to high-tech ammunition. The final showdown between Max and Kruger in the heart of Elysium is a real highlight and so is the exceptional chemistry between Max and his nemesis Kruger, with both actors playing brilliantly off one another. Being a science-fiction film, the effects in Elysium are what one would expect, top-notch, looking incredibly life-like and seamlessly integrating with the live-action footage; Blomkamp has a fantastic visual eye and a real knack for using effects in a narrative rather than having effects drive the narrative.
Exploring similar themes to those in District 9 of social-class and economical division, the biggest letdown of Elysium is that it shares too many similarities with District 9, particularly in the first half of the film. The gritty aesthetic look of Earth is very similar to the slums of South Africa seen in District 9; there are several scenes which literally look like they’ve been pulled out of that film and placed into this one. If more time had been spent in the world of Elysium, a more original unique cinematic experience could have been achieved.
While not as impactful, thought provoking or original as District 9, Blomkamp has created one of the better blockbusters of 2013. Blomkamp is quite possibly the best science-fiction director of this era, it’ll be interesting to see what he’ll direct next, hopefully letting go of ideas explored in both District 9 and Elysium and treating a tired-of-the-same-old-thing audience to another totally original science-fiction extravaganza.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
Elysium is released through Sony Pictures Australia