Elysium opens this friday in the US. Here’s the Review from IGN:
SCI-FI WITH SMARTS
In 2009 Neill Blomkamp exploded onto the film scene with District 9, a stunning slice of celluloid sci-fi that somehow took the issue of apartheid and turned it into an action-packed summer blockbuster, earning a Best Picture Oscar nomination in the process.
This year he returns with Elysium, an equally intelligent science-fiction flick that replaces the issue of racism with concerns about poverty, immigration and overpopulation, but yet again delivers in terms of spectacle and jaw-dropping entertainment.
The year is 2154, and the world has been divided into two very distinct groups: the poor, who live on the diseased and overcrowded earth, and the wealthy, who have fled to a man-made space station called ‘Elysium’ in order to preserve their privileged way of life.
Via flashbacks we are introduced to Max (Matt Damon), an orphan struggling to comprehend the injustices of the world he has been born into. Max’s ambition is to one day make it onto Elysium, but when we encounter him as an adult in the dilapidated future Los Angeles, he couldn’t be further from fulfilling that dream.
Serving parole and labouring on an assembly line, it’s a grim existence, the people of earth kept in line by nameless, faceless robots who wrap them in reams of red tape. Max’s existence is made all the more terrible when he suffers an accident at work which has devastating consequences on his health, making his need to reach Elysium all the more pressing.
Meanwhile up on the space station Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) – responsible for the defense of Elysium – is finding herself frustrated by a newly liberal administration, and identifying the opportunity for a coup, she makes a grab for power.
Delacourt activates Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a sleeper agent who revels in death and destruction, and who is charged with the task of doing her bidding on earth. Meanwhile Max becomes embroiled in a hair-brained scheme to save his own skin, and through a somewhat convoluted chain of events, the three of them are set on a collision course that could change the course of the future for mankind.
It’s gripping stuff, made all the more chilling by the fact that in spite of the film’s many flights of fancy, the premise is all-too-believable. Indeed Blomkamp seems to be very good at this brand of high-concept sci-fi, the film’s narrative similar to District 9 in that it sets up a credible future-world, takes an ordinary man, places him in extraordinary circumstances, gives him near superhuman powers (alien DNA in D9, a mech-suit here) and follows his efforts to smash the system.
And Matt Damon is the ideal man for that job, being an actor who can take morally ambiguous men and make them instantly sympathetic. Max is a complicated character whose motivations shift throughout the movie, and Damon’s nuanced performance makes him a complex and wholly compelling anti-hero.
Aesthetically Elysium is also similar to District 9, all metallic surfaces and muted colours, although the visuals are much more sophisticated this time around, the technological advancements made in the last four years plastered all over the screen so that Elysium is a constant feast for the eyes, most notably during the film’s spectacular final third.
But the film’s greatest ‘special effect’ is Sharlto Copley, so good as ‘racist-with-a-heart-of-gold’ Wikus in District 9. A mystery man of few words when we first meet his character in Elysium, Kruger gradually starts to dominate proceedings as the film progresses, so much so that you hardly notice the presence of Damon when the two stars share the screen.
And while there’s a degree of scenery-chewing to his work here, it matches the crescendo of the film’s finale, with Copley delivering what may be the performance of the summer.
He’s well supported by the always-reliable Foster as the manipulative Delacourt, and William Fichtner as the equally deceitful businessman John Carlyle.
Ultimately Elysium is Neill Blomkamp’s film however, and yet again he’s hit one out of the park. If we’re going to be critical of the movie, it follows the conventions of the sci-fi action genre a little too closely, so while the visuals are singular and innovative, the story itself smacks of the familiar.
Equally, while the film is full of gravitas and packs a serious emotional punch in the final few scenes, the sobriety is somewhat relentless, and could have been punctuated with the odd joke or light moment beyond Copley’s over-the-top posturing.
But if you are looking for serious science-fiction, bursting with allegory and social commentary, you need look no further than Elysium. Blomkamp’s vision of the future is a grim one, but in using the genre as a prism through which to tackle the many serious issues currently facing the planet, he’s yet again made the smartest blockbuster of the year. What’s more impressive still is that it’s so damn entertaining, and that deadly combination of crowd-pleasing and smarts marks him out as one of the most exciting filmmakers working today.
Neill Blomkamp’s sophmore effort proves that District 9 was no fluke, with Elysium the kind of exciting and intelligent entertainment that’s been sorely missing from the summer movie season.