I still remember how I felt after leaving DISTRICT 9 for the first time- surprised, shocked and utterly thrilled. I couldn’t count down the days fast enough leading up to the release of Neil Blomkamp’s ELYSIUM and when that day came it seems maybe my excitement got the best of me. I don’t want to say ELYSIUM is a bad movie- in fact I won’t, it’s perfectly fine, but DISTRICT 9 it is not. Blomkamp’s style is present, his ideas seem to be intact, but there is an undeniable stench of studio interference and an over saturation of Hollywood BS all over ELYSIUM.
I read endlessly about people complaining about the parallels to immigration and health care- all I have to say is who the hell cares? All year long I’m beaten down by movies that wear all their messages on their sleeve and beat it into my head. Sure, ELYSIUM is pretty transparent with all the immigration messages and health care BS, but along the way, it’s entertaining. The story isn’t nearly as strong as DISTRICT 9, but it is still something that at the very least is accessible.
The story as it were takes place in an extremely distant future where the rich and privileged live on a manmade fortress known as Elysium while the poor and destitute remain on an overpopulated Earth where everyone can only dream of making it to Earth- or die trying to make it. Max (Mat Damon) is an everyday citizen on Earth- except that he’s a criminal on the mend- just dreaming of paradise on Elysium until a cruel twist of fate makes that dream become something that absolutely needs to happen- and quickly. So Max looks for help and is given a solution to his problem and in return may just be given the solution that turns everyone’s dream of Elysium into a reality.
Immigration…healthcare…I get it- and regardless of how much anyone feels Blomkamp is hammering it home, it simply served to at least understand the universe the movie is working with. There’s plenty here that makes absolutely no sense, is implausible and may indeed be stupid, but the film presents it in an interesting way. The biggest problem though is that the movie just feels underdeveloped- or more so that it moves too fast for its own good. The whole concept of people trying to immigrate onto Elysium from Earth I found to be interesting in context of the film- less so as some sort of parallel to what immigration is today. Also, during the first act I was able to connect enough dots with the world building that I found the first half of the movie pretty compelling.
I also found the fact that the biggest draw to Elysium were these magical tanning beds located in every home on the manmade utopia to be pretty interesting as well. When paired with the world building (at least what I was able to extract from it) where the Earth is grungy and overpopulated it makes sense at least to me that they wouldn’t make that something available to everyone. The world ELYSIUM sets up is cold and bleak, making the sudden shift in action during the third act a welcome escape- even if it isn’t nearly as well constructed as DISTRICT 9.
Matt Damon is fine in the lead role, but that same performance could have been given by almost anyone- in fact with a lesser name maybe all the Hollywood influence leaking through the film could have been avoided. The best and at times the worst aspect of the film is Sharlto Coppley as the film’s ultimate villain- or at least the one that creates the most tension and chaos. Coppley plays Kruger, who is essentially the attack dog for Jodie Foster’s Elysium Defense Coordinator. The film perfectly sets him up as an irrationally violent psycho, but Coppley still manages to somehow overplay it in some scenes where in others he is genuinely intimidating without going over-the-top. Foster in the other hand, is doing some pretty lackluster work, but I don’t have near the amount of problems others seem to have with her.
Blomkamp is best at pumping out some incredible visuals and that is indeed what stands out in ELYSIUM. The aliens he presented in DISTRICT 9 were pretty incredible- to the point you could hardly tell they weren’t real. The same can be said for ELYSIUM in the sense that there are robots that if I didn’t know any better were fully functional, but the special effects in every scene are seamless at times and are nothing short of spectacular. The action heavy moments do not stand nearly as tall as they did in DISTRICT 9, but visually they are just as striking.
I won’t begrudge anyone who weighs their opinion heavily on the messages in ELYSIUM; I simply just didn’t see the film in the same angle. I recognize the complaints and to a certain extent I sympathize, but at the same time I just don’t care and can let some things slide. That being said, my expectations being as high as they were coming off of DISTRICT 9, Blomkamp’s latest effort just didn’t have the same “wow” factor. The performances are fine if a bit lazy with the exception of Coppley’s insane antics which are extremely entertaining yet bizarre. ELYSIUM had big shoes to fill and it certainly slips and stumbles along the way, but I still think it pulls them off, kind of.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)