Director: Neil Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Length: 109 minutes
Country: USA

Home-grown South African director Neill Blomkamp burst on to the sci-fi scene in 2009 with politically tinged alien-pic District 9. A true original, District 9 stands to this day as one of the more impressive and impressionable science fiction films of the past 20 years. This is in large part to the talent of Blomkamp. One of the main reasons that the film was so successful was that you could feel within every frame that you were watching the work of a brand new and exciting talent. His next movie, whatever it turned out to be, would be the one to cement him as a powerful new talent or simply a one trick pony. Four years later, that film has arrived in the form of Elysium. And while it is no District 9, there is enough to confirm Blomkamp as a force to be reckoned with.

Set in the desolate wasteland of Earth circa 2154 where two classes of people exist; the rich and the poor working class. Earth has become an irradiated wasteland, forcing the wealthy to move to a giant space station orbiting the Earth known as Elysium, which has the healthcare capabilities to cure any ailment known to man. On the surface of the planet lives Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), a former car thief and parolee, who has dreamt of going to Elysium since he was a child. He soon finds himself in dire need of a ride up there, after a horrific accident at work leaves him with five days left to live. Armed with a mecha-suit to improve his waning strength, Max aims to get to Elysium by any means he can, especially when he comes into possession of information that could change the very fabric of society, both on Earth and Elysium.

Much like District 9, Blomkamp laces his sci-fi with political allegory, this time choosing to focus on class struggles and immigration. District 9 most definitely benefited from being a more independent affair (and with the protection of producer Peter Jackson), as much of the politically allegory this time is brushed under the rug in favour of more Hollywood friendly sci-fi action fare.

There are some stunning images within the frames of Elysium and some exciting camerawork that thrill and boggle the mind

Thankfully, the action is incredibly stylish and assured, much more than it was in the final act of D9. There are some stunning images within the frames of Elysium and some exciting camerawork that thrill and boggle the mind. The grungy aesthetic on Earth adds a layer of grit to the visceral thrills on display and act like a bulldozer when the world clashes with the pristine sheen of Elysium in the pulse-pounding final third act.

The design of the world is equally assured; sharp satire stands comfortably with little wry and pleasing details in the mechanics of the world, both on the Earth’s surface and in the grand space station of over-abundance orbiting above. A mix of two worlds, the organic and the synthetic work well to complement each other and display two quite different forms of sci-fi style.

In the performance stakes, I would say it is rather a mixed bag, due in large part to the script’s clichéd characterisation. Damon is as dependable as ever but his character is very much a bland generic put-upon anti-hero. Sharlto Copley is let off the leash as psychotic bounty hunter Kruger in a performance which feels tonally out of place but is great fun to watch. Jodie Foster on the other is a very distracting presence, turning in a cringe-worthy shocker of a performance. A bizarre accent and awful line delivery turn her scenes into a sour experience.

The problem with Elysium does seem to come down to half baked ideas; or more accurately ideas that a studio offering $100 milllion+ didn’t want to explore. It is a shame as you can feel the potential brimming, wishing to break free. Thankfully, Blomkamp saves the film’s frustrating flaws by pumping it full of style and visceral thrills, amounting in sci-fi that while not all as original as it wishes to be, is still a darn sight better than what most Hollywood sci-fi has to offer these days.

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