UK Release Date: 21st August 2013
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Wagner Moura
Synopsis: When the planet is polluted, rich people escape to an enormous space station. But when one poor person is given days to live, they head for Elysium.
Matt Damon has had quite a year. He has travelled from going green in fracking drama Promised Land to going gay in Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra and now to going bald in dystopian sci-fi Elysium. Director Neill Blomkamp, fresh from his acclaimed debut District 9, has produced a glittering vision of the future that battles with huge societal issues and could well be the best Hollywood film of the year.
It’s the year 2154 and population over-crowding has caused a major class divide. The poor are made to fight for scraps on the polluted planet, whilst the rich want for nothing on the titular space station. After an industrial accident, Max (Damon) is given days to live and decides he needs to get to Elysium, with the help of criminal Spider (Wagner Moura). Meanwhile, Elysium’s Defence Secretary (Jodie Foster) is hoping to stage a presidential coup, utilising her hired thug on Earth. (Sharlto Copley)
Blomkamp was always going to struggle to recapture the low budget magic of District 9. However, working with an A-list star and three times the money, Blomkamp hasn’t sacrificed any of that power for Elysium. The film is full of great performances, stellar direction and debate-triggering musings on healthcare, immigration and class war.
Wisely, Elysium moves at a breakneck pace. Its central conceit is explained quickly and the action is divided neatly between the heavily polluted Earth and the glistening Elysium. The violence is shocking, but is never so stylised that the film loses its grounded sense of realism. At times, this feels less like a sci-fi idea and more like the logical conclusion of human society’s current trajectory.
This is an ideas movie, first and foremost. For all of the fast-paced action and adventure, Elysium is packed with ideas. The Med Bays highlight the hypocrisies of the US healthcare system and the aggressive response to anyone attempting to access Elysium shows the tyranny of excessive immigration controls.
Matt Damon’s performance bristles with wit and intensity, both before and after he is fitted with a technologically advanced exoskeleton and his tender relationship with childhood sweetheart Frey (an underused Alice Braga) is one of the film’s highlights. Some have criticised his character’s development, but it makes perfect sense given his experiences in the final act of Elysium.
Even more impressive is Sharlto Copley as a sinister mercenary. His snarling portrayal of the character fits perfectly and makes the scenes featuring his character fizz off the screen. His strong South African accent gives him an otherworldly feel against the stark Americanism of the space station that makes him seem immediately out of place – as if he is a working class contaminant in a middle class world.
This year’s entry in the “Intelligent Ideas-Based Sci-Fi” genre (see also: Looper, Source Code, Inception) is an absolute winner. It also lends itself very nicely to a sequel that could tackle a whole different set of ideas. In a summer where comedy has been where the real fun lies, Blomkamp has taken his audience to cinematic Elysium.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.