Remember the good old days when future humans could just fight evil alien would-be-conquerors with no political subtext? Me neither. Apparently, neither does Neill Blomkamp, as he seems hell bent on tricking the world’s Sci-Fi Action junkies into learning valuable lessons about the human condition in between exploding bodies and robot fights. His first attempt to achieve this end came in the form of the 2009 Sci-Fi surprise hit, District 9, which emerged out of nowhere to become one of the most critically praised and financially successful original Science Fiction films of the past decade. That film stood out then and stands out now as a brilliant piece of proof that at the end of the day, it’s not a huge budget or an A-List cast that makes a great Sci-Fi movie; it’s about boldly going where no film has gone before. In our day of sequels, remakes and reboots, those small films that dare to do something different are the ones which we will remember at the end of the day. With this year already so filled with disappointments, it remained unclear if Blomkamp would be able to break through the pack and recapture that level of innovation that made District 9 such a hit four years ago. Thankfully, while its political message is far less subtle, Elysium‘s strong pacing and inventive Sci-Fi elements make it one of the most exciting and unpredictable films I’ve seen this year.
The Plot: 8/10
Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
When it comes to movies in which the plot actually matters, there are two pet peeves I have that can ruin an otherwise great movie; predictability and glaring logical fallacies. Luckily, the relative lack of either in this film is quite impressive for a high-concept Sci-Fi film like Elysium. In regards to predictability, the film might not feature any Shyamalan-level twists or Game of Thrones style shock value but what it lacks in profound revelation it makes up for in simple deviations from traditional story progressions. Obviously I can’t talk about much in this area without spoiling things for those of you who might be susceptible to that sort of mental sabotage, but feel free to leave specific feedback in the comments if you so desire.
The Writing: 6/10
To be fair, the fact that Elysium tries for anything beyond the usual low level of IQ in action movies is commendable. Despite the issues I’m about to list, I still think that Blomkamp’s bleak vision of the future is at the very least a respectably bold setting for a summer blockbuster like this. Now that I have that out of the way, the film’s writing is the biggest reason why I can see a lot of people not liking this movie. Whereas District 9 managed to strike a chord with audiences through it’s exploration of the fairly universally recognized issue of human xenophobia, Elysium focuses on a much more divisive issue; class warfare. While I don’t think there are many people who deny that the Venn Diagram of the upper and lower classes contains very little overlap, the issue of class warfare is nowhere nearly as black and white as it is portrayed here. Even ignoring the fact that the premise makes little-to-no sense (without a consumer-filled middle class, the wealthy would have nobody to make money off of), the obvious bias the film has against the upper class makes Blomkamp seem more like he’s offering his belated support for the Occupy Wall Street movement than attempting to deliver any sort of nuanced analysis of socioeconomic inequality.
The Acting: 8/10
From an acting standpoint, the cast elevates the film over the level of performances audiences have come to expect from Action movies like this. Damon’s Max isn’t intended to be you typical wise-cracking super-human killing machine, he’s just a guy who would really like to reverse the long, slow decline into death he is currently facing. If, in the mean time, he happens to get revenge on his boss, save his girfriend’s daughter and break down the very walls which have come to separate his people from those above, then so be it.
Setting aside how incredibly beautiful Alice Braga’s Smile is for a moment, there are two other players here that deserve some recognition. Jodie Foster seems to be fully capable of training the cold-hearted-bitch vibes that she’s building up over nearly 20 years of practice, and as a result she proves capable of overcoming the shallowness of her character’s writing and standing out as a solid villain for the crowd to root against. Still, in terms of villainy. Foster is still fully overshadowed by Sharlto Copley as Delacourt’s mad-dog on a leash; Kruger. Despite his smaller physical stature, his relatively high pitched voice and the fact that the last movie we’ve seen the man in was The A Team, there’s little doubt in my mind that Coley is responsible for the most impressive performance of the film. He plays Kruger with the right amount of crazy and volatility that has given us villains like The Joker or Hans Gruber, neither of whom had samurai swords.
The Sci-Fi: 10/10
Remember when Star Wars came out and everyone looked at the millenium falcon like ‘what, that’s a space ship?’. Back then, science fiction had been dominated by the Star Trek vision of the future; clean-cut, well-maintained, shiny and futuristic looking. The imagery George Lucas showed us instead was a grimy hunk of metal, covered in dents and scratches and scars from a hundred different stories. In District 9, Blomkamp re-introduced the world to this sort of unglamorized Science fiction, and out of all of the elements of modern trends in artistic design I’ve seen in recent films, his is the most impressive. Everything in the world of Elysium seems to have been new and beautiful at some point, but once the armies and the doctors and the military left, those pieces of futuristic technology were picked up by those left to use them. Between Max’s semi-DIY Exo-skeleton meld to the offensive and defensive articles weilded by Kruger, there’s something incredibly unsettling about watching savage men wielding futuristic weapons against eachother. Imagine a Klingon weilding a lightsaber against a phaser-toting wookie. Disturbed yet?
As a final note to Mr. Blomkamp: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE give us your loving fans the Full length Halo Movie we have been waiting for all of these years since those cruelly titilating live-action shorts you directed before you went all Hollywood Big Shot on us. There can only be one man to direct this movie and it’s you. Please give us a break (and take a quick break from political preechiness.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 – Pretty Damn Great
+ Absolutely spectacular Sci-Fi elements, especially in the third act
+ Solid performances by Damon, Foster & especially Copley
+ An incredibly exciting second and third act that evade most major plot cliches
- An obnoxiously black-and-white view of the class conflict it centers around
Rotten Tomatoes: 65 %
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 8.5/10
Amonymous Reviews: 4/5
The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5
Fast Film Reviews: 2.5/5
Average: 7.1/10 – Good