Elysium is Neill Blomkamp’s follow up feature film to his excellent District 9, and once again the visionary science fiction director has dreamed up another intriguing film universe full of analogies taking on our own world’s most dire problems.
(Minor plot synopsis below, skip to the review summary if you want to avoid even minor spoilers.)
Elysium stars Matt Damon as Max, a reformed convict trying to make ends meet in a 2154 Los Angeles that looks like a bomb ravaged shanty town full of dust and destitute. The Earth that Max inhabits has become so overcrowded and ravaged that the wealthy elite packed up their cash and built a space station called Elysium 19 minutes outside of earth’s atmosphere.
On Elysium life is grand. There’s no disease, crime, pollution, and more importantly to its inhabitants, there are no poor people. Elysium is a man made heaven of sorts, and a destination that all humans want to reach, especially those left on Earth to suffer in its waste. This is where Max’s tale comes in. Through an unfortunate work related experience, Max is put in a situation where he desperately needs to reach Elysium so he can heal himself in one of the atomizer units that can fix any human biology related problem, be it disease or structural damage. Max aligns himself with a black market kingpin who can illegally send people to Elysium, and for a heavy price he agrees to terms that lead him on an action packed affair full of intense gun battles, sword fights, and by the end a semi-touching tale of redemption.
The true star of Elysium is the realistic and gritty world that Blomkamp manages to create. Just like District 9, he utilizes the perfect amount of practical effects to bring the world to life versus a heavy reliance on CGI that most films of Elysium’s nature employ. Both the Earth based, and Elysium based sets are full of handmade items that provide an authentic feel to the universe. The balance between computer generated effects and old school ones really help to make the world believable, and one that you can envision actually happening on our own planet in the distant future. This realism is evident in everything from the exoskeleton suit worn by Damon, to the modded Earth and futuristic Elysium weapons. The design detail of every single object is staggering, and surely one of the facets that most Elysium moviegoers will remember.
Elysium’s extreme realism is further showcased in its graphic violence. This film is full of blood and guts, and features more full body explosions than a movie about people who eat grenades (speaking of which there actually is a scene that features a character taking a grenade to the face.) The power of the weapons used in Elysium is God-like, and the resulting kill shots will make your inner Rambo giddy with excitement. Sharlto Copley’s character of Kruger (Elysium sleeper agent psychopath) embodies the sadistic violence featured in this film perfectly, and his portrayal of him will make you hate to love the South African’s acting skills, while also secretly enjoying the brand of terror he and Elysium’s violence bring to the screen.
Rather than compromising his vision like so many writers and directors in Hollywood do these days, Blomkamp went for a R-rating, which is refreshing in cinema in this age of political correctness and censorship. Far too often studios go for PG-13 ratings for films of this genre to ensure more tickets sales due to the lower age requirement for the intended audience. Luckily, Neill bucked the system and it stilled paid off, because Elysium took the top spot in box office sales during its opening weekend. This just goes to show that graphic violence is not a death sentence for movies geared towards an adult audience, and that a gory movie can indeed make tons of cash.
Elysium’s design and cast are top-notch, with Damon giving the best overall performance, but it does suffer from some roughly edited scenes. At times it felt like a scene could’ve been better told if it were cut differently, or given more time to develop. One scene in particular could have induced all sorts of squeamish reactions from the audience if it were edited differently. The scene in question deals with Max getting the required implants needed to take on his quest to reach Elysium. Blomkamp could’ve spent more time on the surgery and offered more graphic shots of the painful procedure to really hammer home the gravity of the operation, and the compromise Max made to achieve his ultimate goal of staying alive.
The disjointed editing also rears its ugly head during a few flashback scenes that try to establish Max’s past and his relationship to Frey (a childhood friend.) These fail because by the end the whole Frey love story falls apart, and doesn’t truly bring the emotional punch that Blomkamp was obviously going for.
Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium is a solid follow up to District 9, and it confirms that he’s one of the most talented and original filmmakers in Hollywood. Matt Damon continues to flex his stellar acting skills, and William Fichtner (John Carlyle) portrays yet another minor slimy bad guy with his brand of refined cockiness. Jodie Foster stumbles as Delacourt (Elysium’s security chief), namely because she couldn’t nail her character’s French accent, but overall she and the rest of the cast all give believable performances that really help to bring Elysium’s universe to life.
In the eyes of many geeks Blomkamp is the new king of sci-fi, and this geek can’t disagree after screening Elysium. If you love original ideas set in the science fiction genre that feature realistic worlds, then you’ll surely appreciate Elysium.
Elysium is now in theaters.
The reviewer paid for their own ticket to see Elysium on an IMAX screen.
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