“A brave and creative sci-fi experience.”
Neill Blomkamp is clearly a filmmaker who likes to utilise sci-fi, action and hard-hitting political messages all rolled into one. His last feature District 9 was not only a surprise hit that has subsequently some cult status, but was arguably one of the best films of that year, impressing all with his debut. Now his follow-up takes a similar stance in the form of Elysium, that has once again demonstrated all his directorial tropes and hopefully attempts to reach the thematic heights once more.
Set in 2154, the world has become a place of slums, poor lifestyles and disease, with the wealthiest of Earth’s population flourishing on the space habitat Elysium. In comes Max Da Costa (played by Matt Damon), who after a radiation accident at work is told his days are numbered. With his only hope of being cured by advanced healthcare found up in the skies, he must brave himself against the powerful to save himself, and bring hope to Earth’s infected inhabitants.
With comparisons made to District 9, the film has a Los Angeles that’s not too dissimilar from that of the downtown Johannesburg setting, with its stark sunlight, bustling life and desolated housing, married in with this mechanical futuristic technology of law enforcement and gadgets that are peppered around to give that half-urban half-rural look. You also have that injustice sense of picking on the smaller guy and forcing authority onto the needy and poor. In the form of Matt Damon as the main character, he plays the average working class guy who had aspirations to better his life and sees the harsh reality of those around him. Until he’s suddenly caught up in the whirlwind of the story just as the Wikus character in District 9 had been, which he carries off really well.
But that’s were the comparison with the two films end. Here we also have a space setting that is as every bit of weighted an grounded as you could have imagined, which gives a real illusion to the scale and spectacle on show. Headed by Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster), a stern, no messing about attitude secretary whose tensions rise and rise when her prized possession of Elysium looks under threat, played truly menacing. But the standout is that of Kruger (played by Sharlto Copley), almost a bounty hunter whose possessed to take down Damon’s character so much that it descends into a cat-and-mouse game, making Copley do the other side of the coin and delve into this manic and deranged antagonist.
This time around for Blomkamp, the unexpected approach he first took has been replaced by a more conventional sci-fi action flick, that whilst political themes and messages are there to seek out and sci-fi allows you to explore, doesn’t have the punch to impact the audience. He has better demonstrated the horrors of immigration, race and social issues on a more potent scale before, and while Elysium clearly has other themes of healthcare and citizenship, it’s not the overriding mindset you have exiting from it. But there are still some of the interestingly related subjects about sacrifice, yearning for lost times, dealing with memory and dreams of loved ones in a strong blissful way. Also, with Alice Braga playing Matt Damon‘s on-off love interest, there is a neat correlation between this and I Am Legend, in the form of having a lead character carrying some form of cure for humanity, and their desperate attempts to spread their gift to the rest of the world.
Elysium further demonstrates signs of even greater things to come from its director, indicating he’s not just a one-trick film-maker. It’s not as impactful as District 9, despite many themes and subjects are clear to see and mull over throughout. But that shouldn’t put you off what is a brave and creative sci-fi experience.