Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Elysium is the last of the $100 million summer blockbusters for the summer. This one comes from Neill Blomkamp, the director that previously brought us the Academy Award nominated District 9. If his previous work is to be a template for what we are to expect then it’s apparent that Blomkamp can’t do just a popcorn action/sci-fi flick. The director also must infuse his film and its characters with a message. The messages he chooses to approach are complex, global, and in some parts of the world a very hot button.
Elysium is a floating space station that resembles every posh gated community you’ve ever seen, except that it’s taken to the extreme. While it’s easy to assume that the film only shows the top tier of the station due to the characters it focuses on one thing is certain: these are the haves while the have not’s are left literally rotting back on Earth. Matt Damon plays Max, an ex-con trying to better himself on earth by working a dead end factory job that only pays just enough money for him to get by. He may be walking the straight and narrow but his smart mouth still gets him in trouble with the law along with a broken wrist. At the hospital he runs into a childhood friend named Frey that sparks something in him, that reminds him of the life he should have had.
While it seems that Max has a good heart buried deep inside somewhere he’s still the true epitome of the anti-hero. Circumstances force him to become involved in the battle to get people from Earth onto Elysium because if he doesn’t get there he will die. While others will benefit from his success Max’s focus always seems to be on doing it for himself even when the choice to do the right thing for humanity versus potentially helping himself is laid before him. These character flaws make Max more human than any character that’s been in a science fiction movie at least since District 9. Damon plays the character with a subtle and dark restraint that makes him almost brooding at times and utterly humorless other than one brief spark right at the beginning of the movie. Other critics have complained about the lack of humor in the film but honestly what is there for these people to laugh about in this situation? Blomkamp has chosen to tell a human story within a blockbuster science fiction setting so don’t expect too many funny one liners in this one, and that’s a good thing.
Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, a government official that believes bringing people from earth onto Elysium would destroy the way of life that the satellite’s inhabitants have worked so hard to build. She believes this with such zeal that she’s willing to stop at nothing to maintain the status quo. If keeping the Earthlings from invading the satellite means shooting them down then she’ll activate her beast of a soldier Kruger and have it done. One particular point of contention with the haves and the have not’s is medical treatment. Elysium has special beds that heal pretty much anything. Max needs one of these and so does Frey’s daughter.
Foster is cold as ice and truly an evil character. Her biggest flaw is the really odd accent that she is shouldered with. I don’t know if it was her idea or the filmmaker’s but it doesn’t really work. It’s not so terrible that it discredits her character but again it just doesn’t work. As good as Damon and Foster are it’s Sharlto Copley that steals this movie. You forget that the other two actors even exist when he’s on screen playing the lunatic government operative.
Elysium attempts to make some statements about a couple of very complex sociopolitical issues: the medical system and immigration. There are no easy answers to either of these problems even though the set up and eventual finale would lead you to think that there are simple answers. It’s important to remember though that this is a movie not a deep thinker’s essay on the state of our world and the work we have to do to fix things. If Blomkamp can execute a fun and action packed science fiction film that spurs conversation from a little social commentary then that’s a good thing. The film is easily one of the most jaw dropping films to look at all summer. The mix of practical effects and CGI is top notch (something that Blomkamp is becoming known for) and the fight scenes are thrilling. Elysium reminds me of old school 80’s action and sci-fi that attacked the current political climate in broad strokes as plot devices and thematic elements. It’s current and it grounds the characters in some pretty other worldly situations. Perhaps the biggest true flaw in the film is that it’s nearly paint by numbers when it comes to the anti-hero doing the right thing and realizing the right reasons to do it at some point toward the end of the film. While yes it’s most definitely a flaw the formula is just so well packaged in eye candy, action, and acting that it doesn’t really matter.