Elysium is the latest feature outing for science-fiction director Neil Blomkamp, who was previously known for the hugely successful District 9. In light of that films critical acclaim, and the fact that it’s just straight up awesome, it would be hard for sci-fi fans (and film fans generally) to not get a little bit ridiculously over-excited for Blomkamp’s next piece of work.
The film itself is set on a futuristic earth; in the year 2154, as well as the space station, Elysium. The titular space station is a luxurious habitat reserved only for the most wealthy among society. It is also free of sickness, as its inhabitants regularly use Med-Bay’s, which rid them of all their ailments. The devastated, over-populated ruins of earth are left for the poor, who are policed by government robots. Blomkamp is well known for using his films as narrative vehicles to address societal issues. Whereas District 9 deals largely with xenophobia and segregation, Elysium tackles issues of immigration, health care, and the obvious class struggle that comes with these.
The story follows Max de Costa (Matt Damon) an ex-con who is trying to live an honest life working on a factory assembly line for Armadyne, the corporation that built Elysium, and the robots that patrol earth. However, an accident leaves Max with lethal radiation poisoning, leaving him with only five days to live. He resolves that his only hope is to get to Elysium and use the technology there to save his life. Without giving too much away, Max’s journey reveals a much larger plot involving the Secretary of Defense; Delacourt (Jodie Foster), and thus his determination to reach Elysium becomes much greater. This is compounded by the appearance of his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), her sick daughter Matilda, who must also be taken to Elysium, and the government agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who is willing to use any means to stop Max and his allies from reaching their haven. All sounds rather dramatic doesn’t it?
The way these characters come together (both the heroes and villains) with their respective motivations for being on Elysium is something that gives this film quite a lot of strength. A very short scene involving Delacourt and her family shows her bottom line; the protection of the life she has created for those she loves. Her methods may be severe, but this scene gives her character some context in relation to the entire film. Despite this praise of Elysium’s characters, there are a couple of other things that nag me about this film. I have no problem with the use of some post-production slow motion effects in fight scenes; Elysium flies below my limit on this count, but I also didn’t enjoy the camera effects used in the close-combat fights. When two combatants came together, the camera would pan round them quickly, creating a blurring effect that slightly ruined the combat for me. Elysium has managed to replicate the tenacious and visceral gore that District 9 used, and I don’t see why Blomkamp would want to ruin these fight scenes with post-production effects that don’t do anything to help them.
The truth is, if you go into this film expecting it to be just as amazing as District 9, you’re going to be a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, this film is awesome, and I definitely recommend that you go and see it, just don’t hold anything against it for not dazzling us like District 9 did.