Neil Blomkamp crash landed on the sci-fi radar in 2009 with his contemporary masterpiece District 9. In my opinion, this is the most important science fiction film of the past twenty years, so when his second film, Elysium, was released in 2013, the film had a lot to live up to. It’s true that Elysium doesn’t quite reach the same heights as District 9, but I wasn’t really expecting it to. Once you stop comparing to Blomkamp’s first film, you can see that Elysium is a really good movie that, unfortunately, gets a little heavy handed at times.
In 2154, the Earth is an absolute wreck after problems such as overpopulation have completely destroyed the environment and crippled society. This is just a problem for your average everyday citizen. The more wealthy, upper class citizen can live a life of luxury that can span as many lifetimes as they desire on a huge Stanford-torus space station called Elysium. Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has always dreamed of making it to Elysium, but never actually expected to. One day at work, he is exposed to lethal amounts of radiation and only has five days to live, with his only chance of life being a medical pod on Elysium. To get up there he meets with his old associate Spider (Wagner Moura), who attaches a powerful mechanical exoskeleton to Max and begin a mission that will ultimately end on Elysium. Max has caught the eye of the Elysium Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who aims to prevent them from getting to Elysium, so she hires her man on the ground, Kruger (Sharlto Copely), to stop them.
As with District 9, Elysium is more than just a science fiction story that you can shut your brain off for and just enjoy the ride. Sure, if you want to you’re allowed to, but you’d be missing a lot of the movie’s appeal. The message here is just about as obvious as a movie can get, and Blomkamp doesn’t seem to care if he lays it on as heavy as he can. In my opinion, that is the movie’s main weakness. Just looking at the plot summary I just wrote, you can probably figure out what the message of the movie is, even if you had no prior knowledge. The movie just feels a little bit preachy. Still there are a lot more themes that aren’t as heavy handed, such as themes of transhumanism.
The design of Elysium is really something to behold. The space station itself is a Stanford-torus design that was thought up at Stanford University by NASA in 1975. This makes the movie even more believable than it would be. But, this movie is very believable. The problems on Earth can already be seen here and now, so the time period of 2154 makes the Earth in this movie seem possible. Also, the weaponry and set design all seem like a very realistic depiction of a possible future. I’m no expert of what can be expected in terms of technology within the next hundred to two hundred years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it looks very much like it does in Elysium, hopefully not as dystopic. The only piece of technology that I don’t really buy is essential to the story. That is the medical pods on Elysium that heal you, no matter what the ailment. While it is a really cool idea, I just can’t see that happening any time soon, although it is a necessary piece of the story.
Now I don’t normally spend an entire section on just one person, but I feel like I need to. The performances are fine in this movie, other than Foster, whose performance is awkward at best. Who not only steals every scene he’s in, but runs off with the entire movie is Sharlto Copely. Wow. Having worked with Blomkamp before in District 9, it isn’t really surprising to see him again in Elysium. His performance as the sleeper agent Kruger is horrifying. He’s one of those characters that make you uncomfortable every time he’s on screen because, for one, he just looks gross, but also you never quite know what he’s going to do next or what he’s capable of. Copely plays this psycho spot on, and I firmly believe that no one else could have played this part and done it the justice that Copely did. It may be one of my new favorite screen performances.
So, as I expected, Elysium is another success by a new science fiction titan, Neil Blomkamp. If you’re expecting it to be the next District 9, it isn’t, but it is a step above a lot of the movies that come out nowadays, especially in terms of science fiction. It’s a powerful blockbuster with an important, if not heavy handed message. Plus a lot of people explode in this movie, so expect a lot of that. But hey, I’m not complaining about that! I’d strongly recommend Elysium. It’s a fun blockbuster that makes me excited to see what Blomkamp will do in the future.