Release: Thursday, August 8, 2013
Having waited for this movie since December at least, I was thoroughly excited walking into the theater last night. Something was also telling me, adding to the excitement: that of all the movies that have come out this year promising to pack a punch and have subsequently caused controversy over whether or not said movies did just so (the biggest elephant in the room wears a red cape), something told me Elysium would rise to the occasion. In the hands of Neill Blomkamp I assumed this one would actually deliver on its promises. Its check mark number four on my Ten Taste Tests post, and its a check mark for rising to the occasion, too. Blomkamp’s follow-up to his 2009 effort may not surpass, but it effectively confirms that his vision is one to trust. This film packs all of the wallop its trailers were suggesting, and is once again brutally dystopian and all but too realistic. . . . in a sci-fi kind of way at least.
Blomkamp once again puts a vast majority of the film’s burden upon the shoulders of a strong central lead — in this case, Matt Damon as Max DeCosta, a formerly troubled youth who’s determined to change his ways (and for the most part, has) and now works on a mechanical line in a factory. He is among the millions who have been left to live (and mostly suffer) on a war-ravaged, poverty-stricken planet Earth, while those who have wealth and power have been evacuated to a floating paradise above the Earth, a white wheel-looking space station named Elysium. On the station incredible technological advances have allowed people to heal impossible wounds, replace DNA and rid themselves of disease and imperfections. Elysium is presided over primarily by the strict enforcer Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and she epitomizes the culture apparent there.
There is a fantastic wide shot of several ships attempting to dock with Elysium early in the film that haven’t been authorized to do so, and when push comes to shove, Delacourt orders the ships to be destroyed. The moment demonstrates the movie’s breathtakingly large scale and beyond-reasonably impressive CGI, as well as the heavy political overtones (specifically targeting immigration) that Blomkamp has chosen to douse Elysium in.
After a horrible accident at the factory, Max becomes fatally exposed to radiation and is given exactly five days to live. None of this information is coming from an actual doctor, but instead a robot who coldly tells Max to simply sign for the medication he will need and then to take the prescribed amount of medicine before his death. No nuance, no cheering up, no smiles. Just the mechanical truth. In his significantly weakened state, Max is determined to get up to Elysium and find a cure for his poisoning. He seeks out the help of “Spider” (Wagner Moura) who is in charge of sending off ships that are docked on Earth. Through Spider and his team of “surgeons” (?) Max is transformed from human to humanoid and is now charged with retrieving sensitive information from an executive official — the same man Max saw briefly immediately after his accident, a man named John Carlyle (William Fichtner).
The plan is to implant the information into Max’s brain, by literally plugging it into a USB port in his head. This is some wicked cool technology and — yes, okay, a little icky — mostly just badass. However, when Max and his heavily-armed crew take down Carlyle’s incoming ship, they find they can’t decode the information, and find themselves under fire when Delacourt sends her secret hit-man/ruthless murderer Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to deal with them. Max manages to escape but now finds himself the single target of the incredibly powerful Delacourt and her minions. Damn it though if Damon’s humanoid version of Jason Bourne is going to be stopped — the second half of the movie is incredibly fun to watch as a result.
Blomkamp is not quite as careful with his direction here as he was with District 9. Elysium is extremely stylish, grisly violent and provocative in many senses. But in dealing with its bigger themes, this movie is a little clumsy. (I’m not sure if it’s clear enough on what stance the director takes on anti-immigration laws. . . but if I just had to guess, I think he’s opposed to them. . . )
Case in point, Jodie Foster is terrible in this movie, which is a tremendous shock. Her Delacourt is wooden and she forces an awkward accent that is intended to reflect an air of superiority, but it’s more annoying than anything. For that matter, I didn’t much care for Fichtner’s Carlyle, either. He had fewer lines but was still carelessly written as subhuman, intentionally. The dressing up of these pseudo-villains felt awkward and gimmicky, and seemed to water down the movie in terms of its serious tone. Regardless, the majority of the cast is more than capable, and Damon — mostly due to his character going through so much — is very compelling to watch. Copley as Kruger is particularly sadistic and tends to make up for the disappointing Delacourt and others in high command at Elysium — almost to a fault. He gets a little whacked-out cartoonish in the end but the Scottish accent still maintained his ferocity legitimately. Imagine a Die Hard villain on bath salts and you’d get Elysium‘s Kruger.
The film is not completely indistinguishable from District 9, although endless comparisons are probably going to be made between the two dystopian futures — but that’s a really good thing honestly. What Elysium lacks in its intelligence quota, it makes up for in unrelenting action and maintaining a level of tense discomfort that seems unusual for a summer blockbuster. Maybe Elysium is really saved by its rating on that front. If this had been forced into a PG-13 rating, instantly a lot of that intensity would be gone. Regardless, the film has its incredible strengths despite some modest disappointments. No film is perfect, obviously. While I expected to be rooting against Foster’s character, I didn’t expect to root against Foster herself, but hey.
No doubt, this film is not letdown by its trailers. Elysium packs a punch with its raw action and astounding visuals. Its certainly not a drawn-out affair. Clocking in at an hour and thirty-seven minutes effectively compacts a large-scale movie into a small-sized package. When you combine that with quite the satisfying premise of two castes of society divided between the ground and a beautiful space station, you have a strong contender for best action film of the year.
Recommendation: In the words of Team America: World Police, “Matt Daaaayymmaaan…!” But really, he is very good in his role, if not enhanced by his circumstances. Any fan of Damon’s is likely to be bowled over completely, and his supporting cast (minus the decidedly villainous higher-ups) are all solid as well, so if you’re seeking out a blockbuster film with good acting, then go see Oblivi….er, Elysium. It’s about as entertaining as the big budget bad-boys are going to be this summer, rest assured.
Running Time: 97 mins.
Quoted: “This isn’t going to kill me. . .”
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