Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Wagner Moura, William Fichter
Plot: It is the year 2154. The world has become over-populated and crowded. The rich have fled to a space station called Elysium, abandoning the poor to their fates.
Neill Blomkamp, with Elysium being his second blockbuster movie, seems to have carved out a niche in the movie market for himself. With this film, he has cemented himself as the director who comes out with a political Sci-Fi that does not skimp on the pulse-pounding action.
We see this interesting Sci-Fi universe through the eyes of another unlikely hero (another Blomkamp trademark?), Max De Costa. He is a car thief, struggling to get back on the straight and narrow, especially to impress childhood friend and secret crush, Frey. He dreams of saving up to afford a ticket to get to the rich space station, Elysium. However, an accident at work forces his hand into launching an all-out assault to get himself to Elysium. At the same time, up in the eponymous Elysium, power-hungry Jodie Foster, writes a computer code that can change the face of Elysium. These two stories collide, resulting in a deadly, unpredictable chain of events.
The thing that strikes me most about Elysium, and District 9, is the fact that this could be one of the most inventive Sci-Fi universes in a long time. Blomkamp has a clear goal here: make a political statement on the rich-poor divide, but using a Sci-Fi universe that could be a worst-cast scenario for the future of the divide. However, rather than stopping at that, which many directors would have done (and is also perfectly fine, in itself), Blomkamp goes on to be really creative with the smaller details. Again, like with District 9, we get some fun weapons to play around with, that wouldn’t look out of place in a video game. The space shuttles look like something BMW would come up with if asked to produce that sort of vehicle. As well as giving us a fantastic story, Blomkamp cares about the small things and that is what makes him such an exciting, fresh director.
Need more proof about his talents? God, this is a beautiful movie. There is something very loving about how he shoots the scenes. Sure, the first time we see Elysium, we are taken aback, but for all intents and purposes, we were always going to find that beautiful. It’s a key aspect of his political statement. However, when we are first shown the overcrowded slums of Earth, there is a sense of beauty here too. Sure, the actual image of houses being crowded right next to each other is an awful one, but there is something very pretty about the actual cinematography. This is important, as Blomkamp also gets across the moral of always being proud where you come from. Sure, this movie is about battling to get to the rich side of the divide, yet when we are shown breath-taking shots of Earth from space, Blomkamp reminds us to always be proud of our roots and where we come from. Again, it is a tough little message to cram in, but Blomkamp does it effortlessly.
Where this movie will lose most people is the pessimistic nature of the film. I don’t see this as an actual flaw, as this is Blomkamp’s vision, but it can be a little miserable. There is something clever about the police being androids that Matt Damon has no hope of reasoning with. Matt Damon plays it well, squeezing out some sly humour out of scenes any other actor would have played straight. Still, it gets depressing. The police brutality scenes hit a little too close to home. Sometimes the endless waves of hopelessness start to cripple you. The film definitely picks up when there is a clear goal, a light at the end of the tunnel, that the protagonists can start fighting for. It even makes you forgive Blomkamp for writing in this idea of a button that solves all the world’s problems. Although the existence of this super-code brings up a few plot holes and makes light of a few serious issues, it is needed to stop the audience shooting themselves through misery.
While we are here discussing the politics of the film, I did have a slight problem with the villainy of the bad guys. Sure, I get the greedy businessman figure of William Fichter and even Jodie Foster was being cold-hearted with ambition. But the film wants us to believe that not one rich person gives a damn about the people below. Even if there’s no room at the space station, surely there should be at least a limited access to the healing bay, especially in reference to dying children. I know it doesn’t fit Blomkamp’s anti-politics vision, but I am a little too optimistic to truly buy into his dystopian future. All my other problems with the film feel small. It was partially irritating that the person bestowed with delivering the exposition of the film, Spider, had a barely intelligible accent. Also, Sharlto Copley’s mercenary figure could be criticised for some serious over-acting. Copley enjoys his character a little too much.
However all of these downsides feel so tiny when we look at the rest of the film. There is a clear moral message, the stakes are ramped up to the max all the time and we are given some fantastic action sequences. Matt Damon in his own GI Joe suit makes every punch feel incredible, really getting across desperation with every fighting manoeuvre. The fight with the robot police is particularly brutal and I would have liked to see Damon take on more of them. Blomkamp throws in a few neat directing tricks, but they are not overly in your face, like Boyle in ‘Trance’ or any Guy Ritchie film. Everything points to a very successful career and I cannot wait to see what his next project will end up being.
Final Verdict: Elysium is a bloodthirsty action epic with a powerful message. Directed beautifully and a must-see while it’s in the cinema.