Elysium is Neill Blomkamp’s second directorial effort, following his debut hit District 9. Although this time out is not as successful and potent, Elysium is still a solid science fiction film. It works on different levels, as it can be appreciated for its riveting action sequences and fantastic special effects, but it also works as an allegory and a cautionary tale. It packs a punch, but with a message.
The year is 2154 and brutal poverty has overtaken Earth. The rich and wealthy make their living on Elysium, far away from the overpopulated poor remaining on Earth. Matt Damon plays Max De Costa, a former convict who is just trying to get by, but due to pressing circumstances, needs to get to Elysium. On his tails is a mercenary named Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley (who also played the lead in District 9). Rounding out the cast are: Jodie Foster, who plays mega-bitch Delacourt, the hardened Defense Secretary on Elysium. William Fichtner, who plays corporate scumbag John Carlyle, and Alice Braga, who plays Frey, De Costa’s childhood sweetheart. I am not crazy about Foster and Fichtner’s performances as stuck-up, wealthy citizens of Elysium, but Braga reigns in a solid performance as a nurse on Earth with a sick child.
On the surface, Elysium can get by with its sleek look and impressive action sequences, and although the social commentary that Blomkamp provides is fairly obvious and at the same time general, it is also very poignant and should not be overlooked. Healthcare, immigration, overpopulation, pollution. You name it. The rich and wealthy live in the high and mighty Elysium and are provided the very best in health care, where the sick and dying on Earth are left to fend for themselves, attempting to circumvent the system and sneak into Elysium to use their cure-all medical facilities. The discrepancy is very reminiscent of the 1% and the growing gap between the upper class and the middle class.
Blomkamp may take some criticism on his commentary, as he is merely pointing out problems and not questioning or attacking them, but that is not the purpose. He puts those societal aspects in as a part of fact, as part of the reality in his world. What’s the point of attacking something that has already happened? That is what Blomkamp is doing. He is not being soft or scared. He is being truthful.
Politics aside, the straight story-telling of Blomkamp is also very well done. The tale of Elysium is on a much larger scale than District 9, which only centered on Johannesburg. In Elysium, the whole world is in crisis, which makes telling the whole story more difficult, but Blomkamp is able to present the peril that the world is facing, as mass poverty has taken over. It is a bit choppy at times, but overall, the story-line holds our attention. Then there is the story of its lead character, Max. As the protagonist, his story is vital and Blomkamp deftly integrates fragments of Max’s childhood, which adds to the character’s development and makes Max more likable and relatable, even though he has his shortcomings.
However, the glue to Elysium are the special effects. Blomkamp’s background before directing centered on special effects. Here, those effects are front and center. They are the backbone to the story and social commentary. Somehow, the effects ground everything in reality, an alternate reality. The world he creates seems real though, as we are immersed into this future world that is in ruins.
Overall, Elysium may not be as well put together or thought out as District 9 was, but it swiftly combines creative story-telling, affecting social commentary, impressive action sequences, and incredible special effects into a movie under two hours.