Film Review: Elysium

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd September 2013.

South African director Neil Blomkamp burst onto the scene in 2009 with District 9. A sci-fi action flick set in Johannesburg, the film examines our world twenty eight years after a refugee alien race arrives on earth. Making a strong statement on apartheid, District 9 was well received by filmgoers worldwide and made leading man Sharlto Copley into a star on the rise. Now Blomkamp returns with Elysium, another sci-fi feature, and expectations are high.

In 2154, the earth has become overpopulated and polluted. The rich have left the planet and now reside on the space station Elysium, where they are kept healthy by machines and seem to do nothing else but have pool parties. Isn’t this the plot of Wall-E?

Back in Los Angeles, now a crime ridden dustbowl of poverty and desperation (I’m not entirely sure that it has changed much over time), we meet Matt Damon’s ex-con, Max De Costa, who has just been exposed to deadly radiation and has five days to live. His only hope is to get to Elysium. Unfortunately, his salvation is off limits to all but the elite and he is forced to hijack his way off the planet.

Pursued by Agent Kruger, Sharlto Copley’s homicidal secret police officer, De Costa is also at odds with the plans of Elysium’s Secretary of Homeland Security Delacourt Rhodes, played by Jodie Foster.

Elysium retains the same visual aesthetic set by Blomkamp in District 9. His slums are really…slummy. This time the apartheid allegory is replaced by the refugee debate, very topical in today’s political climate. A scene where a spaceship laden with asylum seekers (or is that Elysium seekers) is blasted en route to Elysium really struck home for me. The film’s message may be at times heavy handed but at least it has something to say, unlike recent sci-fi blockbusters such as Oblivion and Prometheus.

Just like District 9, the action and violence is brutal and raw. I winced several times as Copley’s Kruger dispatched the good guys with his particular penchant for blowing the human body to pieces. In a rather gruesome scene, Damon’s De Costa has a powerful exoskeleton literally screwed onto his body in order to become a fighting machine.

Matt Damon is an appealing leading man, with the acting chops and physical gravitas required for an ex con who will do anything to save his life, and maybe the lives of others. I have no explanation for exactly what Jodie Foster is doing in this film, except delivering her lines in a multitude of strange accents. Wasted in a barely two dimensional role, I half expected her to start twirling a moustache as the evil Elysium powerbroker. And the only compliment I can give Sharlto Copley is that he is 100% dedicated to a performance that makes his Murdock in The A-Team movie seem subtle.

Elysium is a step sideways for Blomkamp. Hampered by a few dodgy performances and an overpowering moral message, he nonetheless once again creates a believable world, albeit with police robots and health spa space stations. I am looking forward to where Blomkamp will take me next, as long as it isn’t a slummy slum.

Published in: on September 10, 2013 at 23:55  Leave a Comment  
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