BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Imagine Earth in 150 years. Would it be a glorious paradise, full of shiny buildings and hovercars? Or would it be a wasteland, overrun by poverty and pollution? In the new sci-fi thriller, Elysium, it’s the latter. Earth is so damaged, that those who can afford it have moved to a floating paradise up in space, aptly named Elysium. (In Greek mythology, their idea of a perfect paradise was called Elysium or the Elysian Fields). Up there, there’s no crime, no poverty, no illness. On Earth, it’s chaos. Director Neill Blomkamp’s sophomore effort is filled with tension, action and emotion and definitely a solid entry in this summer’s movie season.
It’s near impossible to avoid making comparisons to Blomkamp’s stellar debut film, District 9 (which if you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s in my top ten favorite films ever), but it’s what ends up happening even as you watch Elysium. The marketing campaign relied heavily on the names of not only it’s stars, but of Blomkamp’s D9 fame. That movie went on to gross over 100 million dollars domestically and rack up 4 Oscar nominations in 2009. With bigger name stars, and a bigger budget, Elysium tackles a dense subject matter of inequality in wealth distribution and the consequences that come of it.
Matt Damon brings a wonderful pathos to his character Max, a working man trying to overcome his crime-ridden past in a dog-eat-dog culture down on Earth. He’s always dreamed of moving up to Elysium, but his situaiotn becomes more desperate after he’s accidentally exposed to massive amounts of radiation and needs the healthcare on Elysium to save his life. He agrees to one last job for his former crime boss, and when the job goes awry, he finds himself being hunted by the powers of Elysium for he holds in his head the power to change both worlds.
The production design and the special effects are fantastic. I judge the effectiveness of CGI based on how seamless it is, and this film nails it perfectly. Everything looks completely real that I wondered what was even a computer effect vs. a practical one. They had a very clear vision of what they wanted their worlds to look like and it shows. Blomkamp’s direction of the action sequences is stellar, the camera’s alternate between wide shots, close-ups and even a couple of first-person perspective ones to hold your attention and keep you guessing as to what will happen next. There were a lot of irrepressible gasps emitted by me throughout the whole movie.
The emotional satisfaction at the end of the film is ultimately achieved, but I felt as if it was just a teeny bit forced. Compared to the phenomenal character development and resolution in District 9 (sorry, I couldn’t avoid it), it falls a bit flat in Elysium. I’m not saying that there was no character development and that you do build a bond with the characters and care deeply about their fate, but I am saying that I wasn’t completely floored by it. I think that the focus was placed so heavily on the moral message of poverty, healthcare, inequality, etc. and that overshadowed the arcs of the characters we are following.
I think the best part of the film though was the maniacal glee that Sharlto Copley brought to his psychopathic, self-healing, sword-wielding bounty hunter, Kruger. Copley’s first film role was in District 9 and thank goodness for the friendship between him and Blomkamp that creates such magic on the screen. He can go from creepily calm to completely psychotic in the drop of a hat, and that dynamism makes him the center of attention in every scene he is in and it is beautiful.
Elysium is an R rated film, so not for the kids, but it’s a popcorn action movie with plenty of thrills that will also make you think about our world and how we can fix it now, before it’s too late.
Elysium is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout. Read more about the film here.