Review: Elysium

Posted by Matthew on August 12, 2013
Movies, Reviews

Elysium

Neill Blompkamp burst on the scene a few years back with District 9, a movie fresh new SciFi action film concerning a group of displaced aliens living in a massive ghetto in Johannesburg South Africa. The film was born out of Blompkamp and Peter Jackson’s attempts to put together a Halo movie and when that fell apart those resources when to expanding Blompkamp’s short film Alive in Joburg into a full fledged movie. The result was a fantastic film with an original approach, story, characters and clear allegory to social and political issues facing us today. I’m not going to spoil it, just go watch it.

I mention this because the follow up, Elysium, is another SciFi action film with an interesting and unique approach and some clear allegories to social and political issues of our time. So how does it stack up? Not bad, actually.

In the near future humanity is now divided pretty neatly along the poverty line. The unwashed and mostly Spanish speaking masses live in endless favelas of a ruined Los Angeles, doing their best to eke out a living in a world with too many people, not enough jobs, and lots and lots of crime. They long to escape to Elysium, the floating paradise in the sky that all the English and French speaking rich people built to get away from all the poor folk and where they now live in opulence while various defense mechanisms keep the poor people out.

Yeah, this isn’t exactly a subtle movie in case you can’t tell.

The plot gets in motion when Matt Damon’s Max gets a massive dose of radiation and while the understaffed and under supplied hospitals on Earth can’t do anything for him Elysium has machines that can fix you up in just a jiffy from any injury or condition. See that’s the thing that everyone on the surface wants, it’s not the clean living or the bathing in champagne, it’s the health care. The times we see people trying to get there illegally they are all headed straight for those medical machines.

Did I mention unsubtle?

Anyway. Max is dying so they graft a cybernetic exosuit on him and send him out on the plot towards Elysium. Elysium’s secretary of defence Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster) dispatches her ground asset Agent Kruger to stop him. Kruger is played by Sharlto Copley who you may remember as Wikus in District 9. He’s the definite standout here. Everyone in this movie is exactly as good as they need to be for this movie to work but Copley is simply outstanding as the brutal, amoral, psychopathic bad guy who revels in basically every wound and kill he inflicts.

If the film has a failing it’s that while it’s a solid action movie and will give you a lot to think about in terms of social and class differences of our current world, there’s pretty much exactly nothing that you won’t see coming. About once per act a character will mention something which will make you think “well I know what’s going to happen in 20 minutes now!” That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does hold the movie back from being truly great, as it easily could have been if it has surprised me just once.

That being said it is still a good movie and it’s kind of incredible to watch. The action is inventive and fun and Blompkamp has enough faith in his audience that he doesn’t feel the need to explain every weapon or piece of technology on screen. Hell, there’s one gun in this movie that cuts a hole in a wall and another that shoots lightening and in a lesser movie we would have had detailed “this is how this weapon works and how we got it and when we’re gonna use it” scenes to make sure we pay attention but in this they just show up and get used. I’m not even gonna talk about how good some of the visuals are because you just need to see them to believe them.

All in all is it worth seeing? Absolutely. It’s probably one of the best tentpole movies of the summer so far. That likely has as much to do with so many tentpole movies royally sucking this summer but it doesn’t matter; after weeks of wading through crap with only a few robot suited bright spots[1] Elysium is a solid, well put together, worth seeing movie for a change. It might not be as good as District 9 but you know what? Not much else has been either.

[1]: This, Pacific Rim and Iron Man 3 are basically the 3 best summer action movies so far and they all feature robot suits/cybernetics. Year of the Robot we should probably call it.

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