In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. A man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
In the near future, crime is patrolled by a mechanized police force. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.
In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent into the past, where a hired gun awaits - someone like Joe - who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by sending back Joe's future self for assassination.
In the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Delacourt, a government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That doesn't stop the people of Earth from trying to get in by any means they can. When unlucky Max is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that, if successful, will not only save his life but could bring equality to these polarized worlds. Written by
Competent film with unexploited potential, but satisfying nonetheless
I tend to be curious every time a talented filmmaker gets to direct a film set in a pessimistic future/post-apocalyptic era : visually, it's the perfect setting for desolated landscapes and amazing images of urban chaos ; story-wise, it's the perfect occasion to insert social commentary and establish more or less subtle metaphors about our current way of life, our current values, and extend in a fictitious way many assumptions that we have regarding the fate of mankind and our very own planet.
In my opinion, it has to be one of science-fiction's most important sub-genres, since it leaves so much room to contemporary concerns (the environment, pollution, wars, immigration, etc.). Films like "Children of Men", "Looper", and "The Road" have greatly contributed to this sub-genre which, in reality, is not really new, but is constantly being redefined and given different treatments : "Children of Men" was an ode to life, "Looper" felt a lot like a modern-day western, "The Road" was a classic tale of a father-and-son relationship, and now, "Elysium", a thriller/action film/social commentary about disparity between the rich and the poor. Neill Blomkamp burst out of the scene in 2009 with "District 9", a very similar project in several regards, and blew audiences away with a clever mix of documentary-style filmmaking, explosive action, and the refreshing implement of an obvious social commentary.
"Elysium" starts off brilliantly, showcasing two opposite environments: the old Earth, which has turned into a huge ghetto where people live like cattle, and Elysium, a high-end space station where all the wealthy people from Earth have moved to establish their home. We are then introduced to our protagonist, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), whose quest is quickly defined after being exposed to deadly radiation : With five days left to live, Max will ally up with a group of illegal immigrants to get to Elysium so he can get the proper medical attention he needs. But Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster), an evil government executive in charge of defending Elysium, will stand in his way, by hiring Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a psychopathic mercenary in charge of neutralizing all illegal immigrants.
The first third of "Elysium" is both fascinating and stressful : You are being introduced to the over-populated Earth, its hospitals, its industrial plants, its streets. These images are very reminiscent of the Johannesburg ghettos depicted in "District 9". And then, you get to see glimpses of the wonderful Elysium, a visual tour-de-force that ends up being shamefully underused in the film. The first moments Max is shown after being exposed to radiation, the film jumps into a nerve-racking tone, and it is very effective, as it is blended with several dramatic elements that range from innovative to pretty common.
Unfortunately, the pace slows down in the second third, where Max's story gets sidelined a bit, to the profit of a few sub-plots that involve an unpredictable, yet not so major twist in terms of impact on the story, as well as a sub-story involving the daughter of an old friend of Max. And while the twist is a welcome addition, the sub-story comes a little out of nowhere and comes off as a bit of a cliché. It seemed like Blomkamp was trying to preserve this family theme that was dear to him in "District 9", and that served the story so well in his previous film. Its unusual aspect prevented it from being too clichéd (an alien dad and his alien son), which is unfortunately not the case in "Elysium". It does not ruin the film, but it does steal its share of precious screen time in a film that feels a tad too short, and leads it towards more conventional developments.
Then the pace picks up again, with a third act that consists mostly of a bunch of pretty awesome action/fighting sequences, where the feeling of urgency from the original quest has pretty much left the building. In terms of writing, this is conventional stuff, but the technical expertise behind the visuals and the sound is a thing of beauty. Also, the dramatic elements displayed in the first third are briefly brought back to seal the deal, and do provide a satisfying feeling of closure to the story.
Overall, this is quality entertainment with impressive visuals, and a world of ideas that had infinite potential. And while "Elysium" exploited only a fraction of its potential, what it did exploit it did it successfully. Directing, photography, music, and performances are all superb. With a decent yet a bit unoriginal social commentary in the background that does get shelved in the second half to the profit of rock-solid action sequences, the strengths of "Elysium", taken individually, do feel a bit scattered, but make for an overall very competent package.
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