Director Neill Blomkamp returns after a four year hiatus to deliver one of the freshest pieces of science fiction since his debut film District 9. Elysium is every bit as good as D9, if not slightly better, because of Blomkamp’s endless imagination and complete understanding when it comes to telling a story that’s both entertaining and touching. Elysium isn’t just the best film of the summer, but it’s the best film of the year.
The year is 2154 and Earth has become disturbingly overpopulated. The middle-class has been combined with the poor to hash it out on a ruined planet, while the wealthy live snug up on the orbiting space station Elysium. Up their there’s no disease or death, due to advanced technology med pods that cure any disease or sickness in minutes and give the rich the power to live forever and not worry about a single thing.
Meanwhile on Earth, the rest of the popular must fight in extremely poor conditions for the basic necessities of life, like food and water.
One man by the name of Max (Matt Damon) has always told himself that he was going to save up to one day move to Elysium. He’s lived a life full of crime, but has recently decided to focus on his job and being a good person, but that lands him nowhere when he’s forced into a machine at work and given a lethal dose of radiation exposure.
He now has five days to live and he plans on using his short time left on Earth to somehow make it aboard Elysium and into one of the med pods to fix himself up.
Max undergoes extensive robotic surgery to enhance his strength and chances of making it to the space station. This makes him a deadly target, which causes space station security head Delacourt (Jodie Foster) to deploy a sleeper agent by the name of Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to hunt Max down before he makes it to the station and before he possibly changes the world.
Elysium is director Neill Blomkamp‘s long-awaited follow-up to the groundbreaking original piece of sci-fi known as District 9. In D9 Blomkamp smartly discussed various social, political and racial issues. He brilliantly managed to fuse a hard-hitting and very relevant topic with an original science fiction story about an alien race that crashes on Earth and is forced to live under the strict rules of a shady government agency.
With Elysium Blomkamp strays away from certain topics to instead shift focus on others. Elysium is very much a reflection on the different social classes of today’s society, while also drawing a heavy focus on humans and their constant reliance on technology. The film balances these issues, while never selling one or the other short and the end result is something that we haven’t quite seen done this well before.
Elysium is an important film that never struggles with becoming an entertaining one too. Blomkamp’s quick progression as a filmmaker shows, with multiple action sequences that will literally drop your jaw straight to the floor. The camera panning, combined with general placement and flow make the film something of a landmark for a genre that mostly relies on sloppily done speed work. Elysium moves quick, but always competently and always with enough restraint.
Blomkamp’s special effects have gotten better too. D9 was one of the best-looking films of 2009 in the special effects field, especially for the budget and tools that were used on the film and Elysium looks even better. The various robots and futuristic weapons are original, crafty and above all else totally fucking cool!
There’s a gun that literally blows the enemy into a million tiny little pieces of blood and guts and watching Blomkamp show this in an over-the-top fashion without losing a single second of seriousness is bad ass and daring. He’s never afraid to lighten the mood with comedy or gore, because he knows how to hit hard with the story and the sci-fi, without ever having to cheapen a single scene for comedic purposes. He blends everything together smoothly and he makes it look damn easy in the process.
Matt Damon leads the film with a performance that is greatly layered and completely engaging, but still just another home run Damon performance that we’ve all come to expect. Damon is a master performer and watching him play both a kick ass action star and a torn character dealing with lots of past baggage is refreshing, but not the film’s strongest star. Damon is no doubt the main sell of the film and he deserves the top bill, but he’s definitely not the show-stealer.
That medal belongs to Sharlto Copley, playing the film’s slimy and heartless villain known only as Kruger. Kruger is a killing machine that doesn’t give a damn about rules or regulations and prefers to just kill the target and collect the bounty. He lives by a twisted code and really only cares about his fellow soldiers if it means making his job easier. Copley last worked with Blomkamp on D9 as the film’s soft pushover lead and now in Elysium he’s playing against type and surprisingly this character works much better.
His initial on-screen appearance may worry some, but he wins you over the second he starts wielding a sword. Copley is darkly funny and completely nuts and watching him hunt Damon’s character to the literal ends of the Earth is more exciting than anything else currently playing in theaters.
Another closely-kept secret that makes Elysium work on yet another level is the film’s emotional core. Elysium is a hardcore science fiction film, with a heavy agenda and a good helping of action to calm the nerves, but it’s also a very personal journey for one character as he attempts to change not only his life, but the life of many others and Blomkamp expresses that with a relationship that may appear as brief, but ends up being the driving factor for the entire film and the high point of the film’s closing act.
How Blomkamp managed to make a film this layered is beyond me. Most directors would have had to settle for one genre or another or one specific tone versus another, yet Blomkamp infuses all of these and not once does the film suffer for it. The film jumps from a Paul Verhoeven-like bloodbath action sequence to an emotionally wracking flashback that will surely bring a few tears to someone’s eyes.
Elysium is smart, silly and entertaining all wrapped into one. It’s not just a perfect piece of sci-fi, but a perfect movie from the ground up. It’s every bit as good as Blomkamp’s groundbreaking District 9, if not slightly better because of Blomkamp’s ability to expand and grow as a filmmaker. Elysium is much bigger, yet it shares that same intimate scope that made D9 excel as something that was smart, engaging and highly original.
This is what happens when you give genius filmmakers a proper budget and no boundaries. They produce art that pushes the medium to new heights and sets goals for many others to hopefully attempt to reach. Neill Blomkamp is one of the most important directors working in the field today and he has now cemented himself as one of the best science fiction filmmakers of all-time.
Elysium – 10/10