Within the Sci-Fi genre, so many directors make great films, but seem to owe everything to the classic films of the genre like 2001, Alien, etc. Then came Neill Blamkomp with 2009’s District 9, an incredibly refreshing and original sci-fi flick about a group of aliens being forced to live with humans. It didn’t just serve as a breath of fresh air to the genre, but a beautiful social commentary that got the film a much deserved Oscar nomination. Since then, Blomkamp has been taking his time getting to his second full length film, rather than rushing to another one via Hollywood’s typical standards for buzzworthy directors. Four years later, the director has returned with, again, not just another original sci-fi flick, but another great social commentary with Elysium.
Right off the bat, Elysium feels like the perfect companion piece to District 9. The film itself, while not in South Africa, takes place in a futuristic gritty Los Angeles that closely resembles that of the dilapidated Districts of the prior film. Max (Matt Damon), a former criminal, resides in this diseased and overpopulated version of LA, working at a robot manufacturer, hoping to one day save enough money to travel up to Elysium, a space station where Earth’s richest occupants abandoned the planet to live. After a work injury where Max takes a full dose of radiation and is given 5 days to live, he takes one final job from his former crime boss Spider (Wagner Moura), in which he implants a USB drive/computer thing into the back of Max’s skull and equips him with one badass Exoskeleton Suit in order for Max to steal his wealthy Boss’ (William Fichtner) identity in hopes to hijack his way into Elysium. You see, all of those 1%’ers up there in space have machines that can cure any disease, ensuring long healthy lives for it’s occupants.
The film deals with two major social commentaries: the separation between the Rich living lavishly up in space and the Poor dying on the diseased planet, which morphs into a commentary of the importance of Universal Health Care. Both of these political aspects definitely need to be said, and are important in making the film feel bigger than just another run of the mill Summer Block-Buster. Where in other movies the world may be at stake from invading aliens or an evil terrorist threat, the biggest menace in Elysium is the Spoiled and Rich hoarding free health for the citizens on earth who cannot afford it. Like I said, it’s a message that I think deserves to be said, but some may find it a bit heavy-handed, and it certainly might be ignored by the film’s target audience who just want to see two dudes in exo-skeleton suits beat the shit out of each other. However, the message is definitely there for anyone willing to listen.
Undoubtedly the worst thing about Elyisum, aside from a few loose plots points, is Jodie Foster, who plays the Secretary Of Defense. Her character is supposed to be a stern “no-fucks-given” political person, but the way the Foster portrays the character with her over to top and horribly vocalized faux-French accent is just too eye-roll inducing to take it seriously. If Foster had turned it down a couple of notches it would have been fine, but instead it almost felt like watching an unintentional Nic Cage performance.
Which leads me to easily the best thing about Elysium, Sharlto Copley who plays Agent Kruger, an off-the grid secret police force office with a history of extreme violence and rape. It was fascinating watching Copley go from playing the nicest guy ever in District 9 to probably the best villain in cinema so far this year. Everything that comes out of Kruger’s mouth is pure gold. Not to mention he wields around a huge samurai sword as his weapon of choice. This character is so unforgiving, violent, and oddly humorous at the same time. Like I said, you’ll be hard pressed to see a better villain all year.
What it boils down to, is that Elysium is an absolutely worthy follow up to District 9 and an absolute blast to sit through. It’s a remarkably beautiful film to look at, even at it’s dirtiest and dustiest moments. However, it’s pretty heavy on the political themes, which I thought was necessary, but most will either find it too heavy handed or just simply won’t care and will only be interested in watching the film from an Action/Sci-Fi standpoint. Either way, Elysium is more than worth your time, and until Gravity comes out this fall, stands as the best Sci-Fi flick of the year.
I give Elysium a 4.5 out of 5.
By Richard Pepper