An imperfect future – ★★★★
The concept for Elysium is pretty easy to get behind. 150 years in the future, the world is starting to fall apart – environmentally and socially – so a whole rake of rich folks build a new habitat in Earth’s atmosphere, using our own planet’s resources (human and natural) to keep themselves living in a fake-90210 style with all the luxuries and comforts they could hope for. Who wouldn’t want a life of Bellinis and jacuzzis, as you’re kept healthy by magical “med pods” which scan your body and eradicate any diseases or viruses before they can take hold?
Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the terrific and original District 9 pitches Matt Damon as Max, a factory worker living on Earth in a rundown favela-like LA. Some helpful flashbacks show him growing up as a troubled young man, but one with a dream of one day ending up on the Elysium space station. He gets into an accident at work as he is nuked in a giant microwave, a fate usually reserved for robots. He finds a scrupulous soul by the name of Spider (Wagner Moura) who will help him infiltrate Elysium and get to a med pod, but only if he agrees to help him steal information from Arnadyne’s CEO (William Fichtner), the company he worked for.
Up on Elysium Jodie Foster is a French-accented defence minister tasked with protecting the habitat, who has ambitions of power of her own. She enlists the help of the Arnadyne boss to help her write a piece of code that will overthrow the president and vault the two of them to power. It’s a pretty complex plot with a lot going on, but on reflection you’ll realise that it actually all holds up quite well, which is a credit to Blomkamp as sole screenwriter.
Where the film truly shines is in the attention to detail and wonderful art direction. The two worlds appear so different with lots of grimy sets and handheld camerawork used for Los Angeles while Elysium is all glass and polished white textures, all shot with smooth steadicam work. The film was shot on RED Epic cameras and the CGI work is all flawless with real world robot props being indescifrable from their CGI counterparts. It’s worth spending twenty minutes in your local Waterstones flicking through the “Elysium: The Art of the Film” book, as it paints Blomkamp as a true artist with an interest in every level of the film-making process.
Matt Damon is a good lead and, as always, a very comforting, warm screen presence. It’s a credit to him that he’s gone from work like Promised Land and Behind the Candelabra to this. He keeps a straight face during some rather cringe-worthy sappy moments and more than holds his own when called upon for some fight scenes – though the automated body armor that is surgically fitted to his body probably helps with that. Anyway the days of the Team America Mmaaaatttt Daammoonn jokes should now be well behind us.
There are plenty of nods to South Africa and District 9, none more so than the presence of Sharlto Copley, the star of that film. He is absolutely terrifying here playing the rogue agent Kruger who is 45% trained assassin, 35% threatening rapist and 20% crazy pantomime villain. His performance alone is worth the entrance fee.
We could have done without the veiled attempt at 21st century social commentary, I think we already know our own society is unequal and that we don’t share. Similarly there are some problems with the film’s romance elements and emotional core and it’s hard to know if it could win over many cynics over the course of its 109 minute runtime. The film’s all important U.S. opening weekend was a disappointing $30m which suggests audiences either weren’t willing to get on board with the premise or just didn’t really buy into the idea of a split society. It’s a shame as in a summer of sequels, tributes and reboots, Elysium felt like one of the few really original pictures out there. If audiences aren’t willing to get on board and give something new and relatively thought-provoking a go then we may as well just accept defeat and start commissioning the Spiderman V X-Men V Superman V Batman crossover now.
Released on general release in Ireland on August 21st 2013
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