New filmmaker Neill Blomkamp had his work cut out for him in his sophomore effort, Elysium. Following up on Oscar-nominated District 9, arguably one of the best sci-fi movies of this generation, is no easy task. While Elysium doesn't come close to matching the raw originality present in District 9, it's still a very enjoyable, mostly original sci-fi film that is still streets ahead of standard fare.
Elysium's main concept is easy enough to wrap your head around. The year is 2154, and Earth has become overpopulated and overpolluted. The rich have left Earth and settled on Elysium, a synthetic planet, where they reside in luxurious mansions and live like royalty. Elysium is perfect, there is no war or poverty, and every house even has a med-bay to cure even the most infectious diseases.
Elysium's strength lies not in its concept, but in its brash execution. Elysium takes us through the life of Max (Matt Damon), an ex-convict living on Earth in the poor shambles of Los Angeles. Max is your working class hero, and he works in restoring the robots who help keep the peace on Elysium. After an accident at work, Max is left with five days to live and must travel to Elysium to save his life. Meanwhile, Elysium's president Delacourt (Jodie Foster), has developed a program that could rewire Elysium's inner workings, allowing all humans to become citizens. Her inside moles on Earth, John Carlyle (William Fichtner) and Kruger (Sharlto Copley), help keep the peace and keep foreigners away from Elysium. Max stumbles upon an old friend (Wagner Moura), who agrees to help him travel to Elysium in exchange for the sensitive information that Elysium's leaders have been working on.
It goes deeper than that, but without getting spoilery, I'll leave it there. Elysium runs into some action-clichés, but thankfully the film's resolution never feels like a cop-out. In fact, the first 1/3 of the movie is basically exposition, and from then on it only gets better, leading to a great final act. A romance is thrown in here and there, however it actually has context within the plot, as Max's old "girlfriend" Frey (Alice Braga) has a daughter who is in the final stages of leukemia, so she herself has a predisposition to get to Elysium as well.
The sharp contrast between life on Earth and life on Elysium is very obvious, but personally I would have liked to have gotten more history on Elysium, as well as more information about life on Elysium. Life on Elysium for the proletariat citizens is barely shown, for example, only in brief snippets. It's small details like these would greatly enhance the film as a whole, and make it a more enjoyable and, to an extent believable, universe.
Blomkamp has created such a rich and unique world, but he only uses it within the context of an action movie. He unfortunately never goes further than what the plot demands, never asking "what more can we show the audience about (blank)?" This leaves the viewer underwhelmed by the end, only wondering what could have been. The movie is short, and when you leave, you feel like there is more that could have been delved into. This is why movies like Inception, Looper, or even Avatar succeed, because they have expansive, well thought-out worlds that give the movie lasting value. Elysium almost feels like a festival film that is only 45 minutes long. More backstory could have made Elysium almost to the level of District 9.
Elysium explores some themes present in society today, and for the most part, everything "beneath the iceberg" is typically black-and-white. There isn't much digging to be done here. This concept of rich and poor is something that has been done before, but Elysium makes this idea unique enough thanks to its main conflict. In terms of social commentary, Elysium has all the makings for a 60 Minutes special. It explores themes such as social stratification and immigration, but en masse it's pretty shallow.
The characters created are very well done, with well thought-out motivations and interesting personalities for the most part. Damon's Max is kind of boring himself, but you would too if you were working hard on Earth while all the rich are living it up on Elysium. He is somewhat sympathetic, but on the whole he never develops, never learns anything new. His childhood friend Frey is similar, and the two have almost non-existent chemistry. Their story is told in flashbacks, which I could have used less of, but it works.
The rest of the cast and characters is great. Jodie Foster is chilling as Delacourt, Elysium's top dog, and she steals the show here. She isn't present in too many scenes, but when she is, the spotlight is on her. Foster has done a great job of playing a convincing rich leader, and even evokes traits found in today's headlining politicians. Also good was Sharlto Copley as Kruger, a ruthless warlord-esque character hired by Delacourt. Copley is brutal, and even though he never evolves from ruthless killing machine, he is still a huge force to be reckoned with.
Visually, Elysium is stunning. Earth is a horrifying depiction of the future, think Wall-E but worse. Elysium is gorgeous, a planet with its own walls carved out in the shape of a circle. There are some phenomenal shots here, and the cinematography is top-notch.
Elysium has all the workings for a sci-fi hit. All things considered, it has a good set-up and premise, but Blomkamp never explores the world to its full potential. It does just enough to keep you interested, but not enough to keep you remembering it long after the credits roll.
2 out of 4 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.