While there have only been two original sci-fi blockbusters this season, we should be thankful to even have that much. Original films are becoming rare entities in a sea of money-making adaptation, remakes and reboots. Neill Blomkamp made his big debut back with a little original sci-fi film called District 9, which was a critical and box office hit. Will his new movie, which touches on similar themes, do as well as his first, or does the action overtake the message?
Let’s take a look at Elysium.
The film stars Matt Damon as Max has recently returned from prison and is trying to make a decent honest living. After an accident leaves him with severe radiation poisoning he rejoins the underground to try to reach the above-world of Elysium, a revolving community for the obscenely rich where they can cure every disease with a simple machine. The plan falls apart when Kruger, a mercenary for Elysium’s government, attempts to take over himself by stealing the illegal plans in Max’s brain. Can Max save himself as well as Frey’s young daughter who suffers from leukemia?
If you missed the giant gaping metaphor, the movie is about extreme poverty and the growing gap between the rich and poor, as well as about immigration. The population of Earth, composed mostly of minorities lives in desolate squalor and filth while Elysium is clean, filled with benefits, and well guarded against “illegals.” In fact, you need to become a “citizen” of Elysium in order to obtain said benefits and many die trying to reach the gated land. It’s not the most subtle metaphor, especially since Secretary of Defense Delacourt comes off like a giant racist, classist extremist more so than a well-balanced character. Any movie, or other piece of media for that matter, that wants to discuss this issue accurately can’t vilify the 1% no matter how easy it is cause than those in the 1% just dismiss it as liberal propaganda. Still, at least we have a movie dealing with the topic in a new and interesting way. The power of sci-fi – a look at the future and a mirror for the present.
The world building is simple but effective because the future it shows us is both near and familiar to us so there’s no need to go into major detail. A lot of it is weapons technology, but there also cool features in the voting system, the stark difference in hospital technologies, and even how we carry our identification. The cinematography is topnotch, with some great use of CG and practical effects. The sets are well designed, the design of the gear is well done, and the distinction between the hovel of Los Angeles and the pristine condition of Elysium is well done. Some of the action scenes are blurry and poorly edited sadly, which detracts from the overall effect of the scenes, which is sad. Not to mention there’s a lot of random gore thrown in for really no reason, and does not mesh with the stylistic choices of the rest of the film. I’m not sure Blomkamp is made to be an action director, but he still has a great eye for everything else.
In terms of acting, this is a strong cast. Despite having top billing, Jodie Foster is not in the film all that much, but does stand out as one of the cruelest, coldest Secretary of Defenses in cinematic history, and works well as a stand in for all that Elysium is. Matt Damon works well in this respect to, as he is the stand in for Earth and its residents struggling to get through the day. Thus, they would work as a perfect foil to one another…if they ever met in the film. In fact, they are only in one room together throughout the whole thing. Sharlto Copley deserves the most praise. You may remember him as the star of District 9, bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe. In this film, however, he is a deranged mercenary whose dreams of power will not be stopped by the mere fact that many people have to die to get to them.
Elysium is good sci-fi flick, though I wouldn’t call it great. It has a lot of strong elements, but it misses the mark that District 9 hit flawlessly. As a sci-fi-action-film-with-a-message, it seems to try too much and not enough at the same time. I’m not saying that this is a bad film in any respects, it’s definitely worth seeing – its problems are relatively small overall. Hopefully, the next Blomkamp film will do just as well, building of the work of this one.
– Great world building.
– Good acting.
– Great cinematography.
– Strangely gory.
– Poorly edited action scenes.