Elysium Directed by: Neill Blomkamp Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley Running Time: 1 hrs 49 mins Rating: R Release Date: August 9, 2013
PLOT: In 2154, the extremely wealthy live in an exclusive floating space station called Elysium where there is no crime or sickness. After being exposed to deadly radiation at work, a secondary citizen on an dystopic Earth (Damon) leads a charge to get up to Elysium with hopes of changing the paradise's selfish health care system. He is pursued by the bossy leader of Elysium security Delacourt (Foster) who hires a ruthless sleeper agent named Kruger (Copley) to take him down.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you liked Blomkamp's previous science-fiction actioner District 9, then this movie might be of some fun to you at the very least. If Obamacare bothers you, Elysium probably will too.
EXPECTATIONS: Blomkamp's previous District 9 was a bit overrated in my book, considering that its plot (which basically plagiarized apartheid) was later redone that year by Avatar, and its third act reduced its brainpower purpose to a mindless first-person shooter. With a second attempt at politically motivated science fiction action, I was curious as to how Blomkamp would fare, but most of all, how direct his message would be.
Matt Damon as Max: Settling into his first action role since 2010's True Grit or really even Green Zone from earlier in that year, Damon channels here the likable gruff of unintentional heroes previously played by the likes of Harrison Ford, or Sylvester Stallone. He is equally apt to the angst of a grunt as he is comic relief (his repartee with robots is often successful comic relief). For whatever uneven parts Blomkamp pushes Damon's Max to be a part of, the actor's genuinely human version of intensity is what keeps this character from being a mindless hero. Score: 6
Jodie Foster as Delacourt: As many characters feel underwritten in Elysium, so does Foster's character, who runs flat before she invites us to be intrigued by her. Foster peppers this character, an immediate embodiment of the privilege and uptight nature found on Elysium, with a thoroughly strange accent, perhaps the aspect that makes her stand out the most. Though we are probably meant to feel that this character encompasses the many citizens of Elysium that we do not meet, we are not even sure of her limits to power. Score: 4
Sharlto Copley as Kruger: District 9 discovery Copley provides another curious Blomkammp character, this time playing far against the side of humanity he once represented. A sleeper agent with the broken moral compass of a Viking, this character gives Elysium with one of its more stable pleasures, whether it is comically rowdy Aussie angst ("F**k you politics man!" he screams) or the hulking action moments that play against his previously mousey stature in District 9. At the very least, this raises expectations even higher for Copley's upcoming performance in Spike Lee's remake of Oldboy. Score: 7
TALKING: The obviousness of Elysium's direct movie message is overshadowed by Elysium's even more obnoxious knack for flashbacks, as presented with whimsical voiceover. These miserable moments bookend the movie with unnecessary mystical BS. In terms of its message, though, Elysium deals out its ideas without being too blunt, perhaps an indication of Blomkamp's script being overly aware of the easy associations that its audience can easily make. Score: 4
SIGHTS: Elysium is painted with numerous beautiful strokes of CG artistry, especially with the visual introduction of the title habitat that has audiences wanting more. The film also achieves an impressive amount of scale with its practical sets, creating a thorough idea of the world that belongs to the 99%, but not so much the 1%. Along with this, Elysium beats Pacific Rim in the game of providing a gritty image of blue collar militarism. Still, action sequences are used as its largest pull, and while they do feature some surprises (such as the completely unexpected usage of a bullet-deflecting shield) aren't cut with a palpable amount of high tension. Score: 8
SOUNDS: Music helps draw a very direct picture in Elysium, with pieces of Beethoven and Bach always being used to show how privileged the citizens of the title location are. On earth, Max and his fellow street men listen to what basically wubs like dub step, another timeline inconsistency to this movie's confusing picture of what things from 2013 are still being utilized in 2154. Ryan Amon's film score, his first ever, hits obvious beats along the way. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: The final confrontation between Max and Kruger, complete with a slow-motion super jump and a decent showdown location, gives Elysium some of its strongest moments.
ENDING: "I know why the hippo did it."
QUESTIONS: So now everyone can choose to live forever? Isn't that going to be a huge problem itself? There were first aid ships ready to help Earthlings the whole time, and they were never sent down to the planet? Why do people lock their doors in Elysium if there is no crime?
REWATCHABILITY: The meandering beginning Elysium might prove to be a bit laborious in a second viewing, but tinkering on Blomkamp's vision could be a bit of fun all the same. At the very least, its action sequences will hold one's attention, even if it is for the simplest of movie-watching pleasures.
Elysium is an uneven movie with strong intentions, each of which writer/director Blomkamp brings beaming storytelling enthusiasm to. On one hand, he so wants to make a film with a message, with immediate political relevancy that speaks to multiplex viewers about issues even the most news-literate folk can understand. On the other, Blomkamp wants to service these ideas with walloping, crazy-go-nuts action, as if the movie were also a pure piece of sci-fi fighting itself.
As with District 9 but with a bit more success, Blomkamp underwhelms both of these strong elements to his experience, making the movie an ambitious albeit kind of difficult movie to settle into. He doesn't hit us over the head with his message, but his simplification of his science fiction situation leaves one with many questions about the title paradise, and its inhabitants. We want to see more of this place, understand how it works, and not just because Blomkamp and company have made it to look so beautiful. It seems like more information on Elysium would better explain the entire entire situation of the two differing lifestyles, but Blomkamp is concerned with keeping his 1% as robotic as possible.
As for the action, Blomkamp's fight sequences keep Elysium moving forward with bits of creativity, (such as a stunt involving a grenade, or a moment when a bullet-deflecting shield instantly appears), even when the entire plot begins to feel tedious (the film feels like its simply concerned with getting characters up to Elysium). Excitement can be found in its more pure moments, but these scenes don't feel like they deliver on the high levels they're aiming for. Couldn't a duel between two robot men be a bit more anxiety-filled than it is here?
One has to admire Blomkamp for what he's trying to do, which is essentially trying to beat James Cameron at his own science-fiction multiplex game. Unfortunately, that comes with embracing the cheesy and numbingly simplified aspects of Cameron's movies. Call it preachy or call it really violent, Elysium is a different kind of bold multiplex experience that leaves viewers needing more from its story in a way no filmmaker as inspired as Blomkamp could ever have intended.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10