I tell you what, folks, if the future is as depressing and dirty as Neill Blomkamp seems to think it’ll be, we’re in for a rough ride. Blomkamp, best known as the writer and director of his intriguing feature film debut, District 9, has a thing for dystopian societies. In District 9, aliens are living in the slums of the future, but Elysium is all about humans. Almost everyone resides in poor, overcrowded, unsanitary conditions while the millionaires float in a big, fancy, disease-free space station in the sky. Not fair, but interesting (and scary) to think about.
I wasn’t initially drawn to Elysium. In fact, I got sick of the previews. But generally positive reviews started rolling in, and I did recall enjoying District 9, so I decided to give it a chance. Now that I’ve seen it, I can give Elysium points for creativity, visual effects, and a really psycho villain, but it isn’t quite the sci-fi powerhouse I’d hoped to see. Still, as far as end-of-summer films go, you could do worse.
Synopsis: “Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: Sharlto Copley. I don’t know what it is about this guy, but I love him—even as a full-blown psychopath. He’s a great character actor, which he proves here as villain Kruger, although he already proved it as Murdock in The A-Team (if you haven’t seen it, see it for him). As Kruger, Copley’s concocted the perfect blend of scary and crazy. If his character is in the scene, he usually steals it. There are a lot of interesting visuals in this movie, too—things that give it an appropriately futuristic vibe. Elysium itself is pretty impressive, and so are all the healing machines in it. And the weapons are definitely creative—bullets that create violent pockets of air that tear a robot to pieces, explosives that target a person and cling to them like magnets before blowing up, and, of course, the metallic exoskeletons that make protagonist Max (Matt Damon) and Kruger super strong. It’s all very cool, and it’ll certainly please sci-fi fans. Favorite scene: Visually, my favorite scene was the first encounter between Max and Kruger. Max starts shooting, and Kruger pulls out a device that encompasses him in a shield of blue light. Cue the slow motion, watch the bullets fall away uselessly. It’s a simple thing, but I thought it was nifty.
The Bad: Good lord it’s violent. I expected some gore, mind you, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many exploding bodies in one film. As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not especially keen on violence, so there were times when, for me, it was excessive. Although the film usually gives you pretty fair warning when gross stuff is coming, so at least you know when to look away. I also took issue with some of the characters. Delacourt (Jodie Foster), for example, is a little ridiculous. Initially introduced as the ambitious, villainous mastermind behind Elysium security, Delacourt is barely developed at all. She’s exceedingly cruel and out for blood, but we never fully understand why—aside from the fact that she’s apparently super protective of her home and her kids. There’s not much development from Max either. We feel for him, but he’s also pretty selfish for a while. Then, he suddenly flips a switch and becomes the hero we expect. What changed his mind? We sort of know, but not really. Aside from that, the film just has too much of a District 9 vibe. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re able to predict major plot points because you’ve seen another one of the director’s films, it’s kind of a problem. I had a vague idea of how it would end about halfway through, and I knew exactly how it would end within the last 20 minutes. Because it moves at such a rapid pace without a lot of character development, Elysium lacks the heart and soul that make District 9 so effective. Least favorite scene: A grenade explodes, and somebody’s face gets blown off. Eww. Just…eww.
To Sum It Up: Sci-fi fans will probably like this film. The story is somewhat unique, the effects are cool, and the action is almost constant. However, for someone who’s seen what Blomkamp can do with a well-developed protagonist and a truly unique story, it might be a disappointment. It’s enjoyable enough, and it definitely makes a statement about equality, but I don’t think it’s ever going to reside in the realm of the sci-fi classics.
My Grade: B