Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Brandon Auret, Josh Blacker, Emma Tremblay, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Faran Tahir
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Expectations: Very high.
I don’t know about you, but I LOVE District 9. Elysium is definitely no District 9, but it’s kind of unfair to even compare them, as Elysium is a much more ambitious film. Due to this, it’s also a more disappointing film because it doesn’t always hit the marks it strives for. At the same time, it features so many great ideas and awesome moments that it would be hard to walk away from Elysium without a smile. If nothing else, it’s got fantastic design work throughout, and the future Earth dystopia/utopia presented in the film is a pretty spot-on extrapolation from the current state of economic inequality in the US.
Elysium is a very simple story at its heart, but it’s also a multilayered story that deals with multiple characters and tells their stories simultaneously until they all converge. The basic kernel is that after Earth became too overpopulated and polluted, the rich people built a space station called Elysium where they could enjoy their money in the peace of space, along with virtually neverending life thanks to their revolutionary med-bays that can identify and cure any ailment. Back on the surface of Earth, Max (Matt Damon) is an orphan who has always dreamed of going to Elysium, and because this is a movie, we enter his life as he’s thrust into a situation that might make that dream a reality.
While Elysium should be judged on its own, it has so many similarities to District 9 that it becomes very hard to think about one without the other. They are not related in any way, they merely sprouted from the same mind so they explore a lot of the same things. Stuff like class warfare, urban slums, body explosions, etc. What’s interesting about Elysium, though, is that it’s something of a reversal of District 9. Elysium is a popcorn film with slight social commentary, while District 9 is a social commentary film that also serves as a popcorn flick. While that reversal would be perfectly acceptable, I think the major failing of Elysium is two-fold. First: District 9 is a better popcorn movie. Second: Elysium doesn’t fully embrace the switch-up, instead leaning hard into mainstream clichés designed to enhance our emotional response to the slight social commentary, when in fact it merely shines a light on just how slight it is.
But to focus on this — and it’s admittedly hard not to — is wrongheaded when watching Elysium. No matter what, this is a summer, popcorn movie. It’s a sci-fi melodrama where these down-on-their-luck characters are striving for the stars and we sit back and hope along with them. Elysium might not say anything all that deep, but it gets its point across rather well and I imagine many saw the film and drew hope and inspiration from it. If not from the actual storyline presented, but from the promise of a better possible future for humanity. This is one of the greatest strengths of science fiction, its ability to awaken the mind to fresh hope and desire is uncanny and Elysium fits the bill considerably in this regard.
Elysium also delivers a barrage of incredible special FX. The designs of everything from the robots to the shuttles to Elysium itself are incredible. As with District 9, the effects work perfectly with the filmed elements, proving to me once again that you just can’t beat a director with a special FX background shooting a special FX-filled film. The CGI here is just outstanding, and if this doesn’t at least get a nomination for visual FX the Oscars are a total sham (which totally isn’t already true :))
If you dig science fiction and you want to see something else from the mind that brought us District 9, then dump your “This is gonna be District 10” expectations and watch Elysium with an open mind. It’s got its fair share of issues, but the positives far outweigh them. Matt Damon is great as always, Jodie Foster is stern and commanding, but it’s Sharlto Copley that completely steals the show as Kruger. Elysium is science fiction done mostly right.