Neill Blomkamp came out of the woodwork in 2009 with his Oscar-nominated sci-fi flick District 9. The action enthralled genre fans, but it was one of those rare films that had impacting political messages and symbolism under all the futuristic mayhem. It ceased to bludgeon its audience with the meanings and issued the right amount of trust and respect towards movie goers.
With Elysium, that greatness hasn’t let up. Blomkamp proves he’s here to stay with more excitement, more eye-popping visuals, and equally powerful messages.
In Elysium, we watch underprivileged Max grow up to be a hard-working factory employee (played by Matt Damon) who is constantly pushed to the grind. He’s trying to shake a villainous past and trying to survive California in the year 2154.
The all-powerful space station named Elysium floats above Earth, as entitled, well off inhabitants enjoy a stress-free calming life. If you have the funds to escape Earth’s wasteland, you’ll be treated to a clean, friendly environment where violence and illness don’t exist.
Blomkamp’s movie is a tale of “have’s” and “have not’s”. The “have not’s” are also portrayed as determined folk who want to start a safe life for their families in a place filled with opportunity. The ships that make a break for Elysium feature families of all different races, subtlety making a statement about immigration.
Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, a person of power who sees no reason for an array of different people in Elysium. Her methods of ridding “pollution” are highly frowned upon and get her in trouble by higher authorities. They also don’t approve of her hired help – the rugged and evil-spirited Kruger (played by District 9’s Sharlto Copley).
What audiences won’t approve of is the appearance of Foster’s poorly executed ADR. Movie goers will be finding themselves issuing a double take as they question if her lines sync up properly with her mouth.
District 9 and Elysium share similar action beats. Both contain a climactic fight towards the final stretch, both involve the lead character going through a physical transformation that ups the stakes, and – of course – both take place in the future. Both films pack wise observations from Blomkamp, but I found Elysium’s underlining to be much more admirable. The reflections on current immigration views are much more refined than District 9’s clever but literal story about “illegal aliens”.
But, the films don’t see eye-to-eye on their sci-fi versus action ratio. Elysium is much more an action movie than Blomkamp’s first endeavour. It’s a decision that’s a possible danger for the filmmaker, as he might drive his audience away from thinking it’s a smart film and more towards thinking it’s a loud sock’em match.
The choice didn’t drive me away though. Blomkamp and his cast are able to portray heavy hitting action and always make it gripping. When the gorgeous effects and visuals are included, it makes Elysium into a near-perfect mixture of action and science fiction.
The film hardly feels long during those more talky portions. When the film is taking a break from the violence, those messages and motivations are delivered in a skilled manner. We never feel suffocated by the themes Elysium is expressing. However, the film does have a few moments where it overemphasizes how perfect Elysium is. I could’ve done with less scenes of peaceful white people listening to classical music.
Elysium is a striking second punch from a talented filmmaker who promises he’s here to stay. Blomkamp is shaping his resume up quite nicely and, yes, there are plenty of instances where gamers will obsess over the dream of possibility having a Halo adaptation from this particular writer/director.