Neill Blomkamp has the distinction of being an extremely well-known name in most film loving circles after writing and directing only one film: District 9. Before that he had only directed a few short films and even earlier had been an animator on many shows including Smallville and Stargate SG-1. But the unique visual style and the turning of story telling conventions on their head made for an unforgettable film. Now we fast forward four years to 2013 and the sophomore debut of Blomkamp with Elysium. With a more well-known cast and a noticeably bigger budget, does Blomkamp stay true to the personal touches that made District 9 such a memorable experience? Or does he phone it in to deliver another generic summer blockbuster? Read on to find out!
Elysium is one thing above all others. It is a visual masterpiece. You can never tell if you are looking at computer generated effects, live action stunts, animatronics, or some crazy combination of the above. When you combined this with Blomkamp’s ability to make everything on-screen look gritty and dirt soaked it makes you feel like this future is not only possible, but that Blomkamp himself travelled to the future to get the footage in person. Max De Costa (Matt Damon) has grown up on Earth in the 2140’s and 50’s, at a time when the planet is vastly over populated and full to the brim with sick and impoverished inhabitants. The reason for this sad situation you ask? Elysium. Elysium is a massive space station built to house the Earth’s most rich and elite. Those that are deemed worthy, or have deep enough pockets, now reside on Elysium where it is not only beautiful and clean, but where technology has evolved to the point that all sickness and disease are eradicated with the press of a button. The rest of Earth’s mass population however, still reside on the planet’s surface, where medical treatments are similar to what they are in our present time, and an unfeeling army of robot police enforce the laws of the land with rigid literalness.
So this is the world where we meet Max, seeing him grow up in a Catholic orphanage alongside his childhood best friend and life long love, Frey (Alice Braga). The two of them are inseparable as children, but we now see Max as grown man, working at a factory making the very robotic police force that oppresses him. Frey pops again quickly though, as Max is forced to go in for a broken arm and discovers Frey is now in town and working as a nurse. They’ll see each other again soon as the plot escalates and Max becomes irradiated and is given only five days to live. Their next encounter also introduces the heart of the film, Frey’s daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay), who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. All of this eventually leads to the main point of the story, Max must travel to Elysium for a chance to save himself, Matilda, and possible the entire population of Earth.
Max luckily has some contacts from his old life of crime and utilizes this in order to make the trip to Elysium, suiting up in an epic looking exoskeleton and taking on an ever-growing list of villains from the corrupt business man John Carlyle (William Fichtner) to the somewhat psychopathic assassin Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to the Elysium Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster). And with this great cast of villains, almost no one disappoints. Fichtner plays with just the right amount of smugness and arrogance, and serves as a great first round for Max to confront. Conversely Foster is a complete detractor from what is otherwise a solid cast. Her terrible French accent and harshly delivered lines are sometimes hard to watch and stand out even more prominently against the third villain of the film, Kruger. Copley plays this character with such dedication it’s hard to imagine it’s even acting. I started to wonder if they’d just pulled some insane, blood thirsty man in off the street and let him go, and it was just a happy coincidence that he looked a lot like Sharlto Copley. And while I’ve written a lot about Max, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the always solid performance Damon gives as the protagonist.
I’ll of course not discuss what happens in the third act as we like to keep things spoiler free around here, but I will say that what Elysium does best not only in its final third, but in the movie as a whole, is balance the action with a compelling story. And while this particular story, in one form or another, has been told many times before, many fail to tell it quite this well. Not many movies have me enthralled by an epic fight of strength only to moments later have me welling up from a touching moment.
Elysium is everything I could have wanted in a follow-up to District 9, from great action to amazing ascetics, it keeps you both entertained and emotionally invested from start to finish. While a slightly rushed second act and an atrocious performance from Jodie Foster hold the film back a bit, the overall vision Blomkamp has and his ability to convey that to the viewer with such realism given its scope, is truly impressive. This is easily a film that will sit on my inevitable Top Summer Movies or 2013 Geek Sheet™. All in all I cannot wait to see what Blomkamp has in store for us next.
Thoughts from the Free For All Crew
I didn’t really know what to expect going into Elysium, but what I got was better than I could have hoped for! Neill Blomkamp is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. The sheer scope of his storytelling and his gritty, realistic style truly helped make this movie epic. It could have been a bit longer, as the story felt rushed forward at times but the movie is not hurt by this. It has some of the best action I’ve seen all year with very unique and great slo-mo sequences. Jodie Foster is awkward and forgettable but Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley are absolutely brilliant. Go see this movie!
Elysium is an aesthetically pleasing adventure that unfortunately falls somewhere short of the brilliance that director Neill Blomkamp reached with District 9. Many great ideas and a dedication to its style are present, but the sum of the parts doesn’t quite live up to the promise. Add in a terrible performance from Jodi Foster and some of the most egregious “shaky cam” action I’ve seen all year and you get a somewhat underwhelming, yet fun ride.
Elysium, Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the cult hit District 9, is a visceral ride in every way…minus the underwhelming performance from Jodie Foster. The action is intense, the acting is great, and the antagonist is one of the better movie villains since The Joker. However, if you are squeamish in any way, don’t see this movie; it’s brutal! But go ahead and do yourself a favor anyway and check this movie out.