Elysium. (2013). Run time: 109 mins. MPAA: R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout). Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, and William Fichtner. Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp.
Science fiction has had its fair share of great inputs. Ridley Scott knew what he was doing when he released Alien and Blade Runner, James Cameron knew what he was doing when he released Aliens and Terminator 2, Steven Spielberg knew what he was doing when he released E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and newcomer Neill Blomkamp knew what he was doing when he released his directorial debut District 9. But those legendary directors released at least two great sci-fi pieces. Can Blomkamp do the same? With Elysium, his second full length feature, the answer is a resounding yes.
Elysium is one of the coolest movies of the year, and I think it’s safe to say it’s the second best summer blockbuster, right behind Star Trek: Into Darkness. Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, and World War Z were all awesome, but Elysium is that blockbuster that requires your brain to be present as well. Not that the others didn’t at all, but Elysium does more so. Matt Damon plays a character who lives on Earth. That may not sound surprising now, because everyone lives on earth right now, but in this futuristic epic only the underprivileged live on earth. The poor, lower class humans live on earth, making their way through the disgraced society that has been plagued with sickness and disease, while the privileged live on Elysium, a station placed in space, miles away from earth, that is completely ridden of disease of poverty. Machines exist that cure cancer. Any physical misfortune really. Which could be why everyone on earth, Matt Damon’s character, Max, especially, wants to get there. I won’t spoil why because I actually think the trailers did a shockingly good job at concealing the main plot point of this film, so I won’t give it away either. Let’s just say he needs to get to Elysium, and what results is a thrill a minute ride that never seems to let up.
Matt Damon is terrific in the role of the anti hero. I mean terrific. And that’s coming from me, a huge Matt Damon fan. I absolutely loved all three Bourne films (not Legacy), I thought he was great in Contagion, I loved him in True Grit, and he was Oscar worthy and snubbed with Leo in The Departed. Here, though, he’s in that sci-fi blockbuster we rarely see him in, and he sells it. He has not one moment of screen time that will leave your attention divided. Supporting him is Diego Luna, who appeared on Conan a few weeks ago to promote the film, and he did good supporting work, along with Alice Braga and William Fichtner. But the standouts here are without question Sharlto Copley, and Jodie Foster, one outstanding, one horrendous. Let’s just get the cat out of the bag. Jodie Foster is absolutely horrible. She is an Oscar® winner, and she shows no sign of that here, and I’m a huge fan of hers. I think she is a tremendous actor, but she is unfortunately horrendous here. She puts on this accent that I’m not even sure exists by any culture in the world, let alone anyone in this film, and she feels phony and out of place. That is partly to blame on Blomkamp for letting it slide, but I blame Foster the most. She’s just awful. Sharlto Copley, on the other hand… Wow! Copley, having only been in one film previous, that being Blomkamp’s District 9, proves with that film and now Elysium that he is an actor to be reckoned with. I thought he was brilliant in the leading role of the protagonist in District 9, and here he is even more so as the antagonist in Elysium. While I wouldn’t say he is Oscar worthy, and even if I thought he was there is no way the Academy would go for it, I will say Copley is one of the best movie villains of the year, rivaling even Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into Darkness. He was genuinely scary and he immersed himself into his character’s anarchy. Great performance.
This film is directed by Neill Blomkamp, and I firmly believe he already showed forth his style, purpose, passion, and talent with District 9. I like to call District 9 a cult classic, but it really isn’t, because while not as many people saw it as those who saw, say, Prometheus, it was watched, appreciated and even loved by a lot of people. And a lot of those who loved it were critics, and even the Academy. It’s not too often a director who has never directed a feature film before comes along and directs a sci-fi movie, only to have it receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars®. Blomkamp did it. And he deserved it. I personally loved District 9, and thought it was one of the best films of 2009. I think it is one of the best sci-fi movies in the past few decades, and I think Blomkamp handled the material incredibly well. Face it. It’s allegorical. Apartheid is the running theme in District 9, which could be one of the reasons it got a Best Picture nod. It wasn’t just some dumb sci-fi movie. Nor was it just a smart one. It was one that was allegorical to society. And that is why I loved it. And just as that film was allegorical, so is Elysium. Maybe even more so. Obama will love this one. This movie can be taken as a serious abettor for Obamacare, as the issue of healthcare is the main running theme in it. Yes it gets to the point sometimes where it beats you over the head, but it doesn’t ever distract from the entertainment either. Sure, Richard Roeper may be right about Fox News doing a segment on how this movie is for Obamacare, but even so, who cares? The entertainment never lets up, and neither does the intelligence. Moving past themes and allegories, though, let me go ahead and credit Blomkamp on the two other aspects he’s responsible for: directing and writing. This movie looks great. Yes, it looks similar to District 9, with a dirty and grimy futuristic view of earth, but it looks fantastic. On the other hand of the besmirched earth is the gorgeous, almost heavenly realm of Elysium itself. We as the spectators don’t get to witness a lot of the ambrosial domicile, but from what we do see, I must say, as a critic, it is very pleasing to the eye. It clearly distinguishes life for the privileged and life for the poor, which goes back to the allegories woven throughout.
Finally, I want to briefly touch on the script, written also by Blomkamp. This is smart sci-fi, like Duncan Jones’ Moon and Source Code. The allegorical themes are present and Blomkamp makes his stance known, but he never sacrifices story for that, and what a story he has written here. Once again, I will not spoil the story or the plot, because it is worth discovering and experiencing in the film firsthand, but I just have to say that Blomkamp did a great job with this one. Very informative and entertaining, just as he has been and will be known for.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Neill Blomkamp returns in full force with Elysium, the follow up but not sequel to his colossal debut District 9. Is it as good as District 9? No. Will it pick up Oscar® nominations? Probably not. But, that doesn’t change anything. It’s is a big budget sci-fi blockbuster with a brain. One that challenges you to think, consider, maybe even get political, but it never sacrifices entertaining you. Elysium is one of the best films of the summer, with knockout performances from Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley, and it’s a thrill a minute think tank that will get your blood pumping and your juices flowing. (A-)