BETWEEN HEAVEN (ELYSIUM) AND EARTH
Back in 2009, the movies that hit the theaters in the summertime were of a mixed variety from the rousing success of the new Star Trek film to the disappointing flop of Terminator Salvation. That very same summer, Neil Blomkamp made his directorial debut with the sci-fi sleeper film called District 9. It was breath of fresh air for most viewers in a time when movies that summer were overcrowded with sequels and remakes that were jostling to grab the average moviegoer’s attention and earn the big bucks. On its surface, District 9 looks like a visual action packed blockbuster of a movie, but it was more than that from its original plot that was told in a more sophisticated manner than others, to the film’s main character to what many called an “Anti-hero” (which was quite interesting to see play out throughout the course of the movie) and even touched on the sensitive subject issue of apartheid. It was for these reasons why many viewers, including critics, praised District 9 as the film even went on to be nominated in the Best Picture category at the Oscars, which is a rare occurrence for any summer movie. In 2013, Neil Blomkamp returned to the big screen with another epic sci-fi tale called Elysium. Does Blomkamp’s sophomore movie exceed that of District 9 or does it flounder beneath its visual flair?
Set in the year 2154, life on Earth has changed and not for the better as the world is now riddled with disease and suffers from overpopulation. Earth’s most wealthiest and privileged citizens have fled the decaying Earth and now live on the ultra-luxurious space station called Elysium (A place where poverty doesn’t exist and life-threaten diseases and aliments can be cured in a matter of minutes). A former car thief, Max De Costa (Matt Damon) has always dreamed of living on Elysium, but lives on the harsh reality of Earth. One day, while working at his job, Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and is told that he only has five days to live before he dies of radiation poisoning. Max seeks out help from Spider, a local crime lord, to try and smuggle him to Elysium so he can be cured. Spider agrees to this, but only after Max completes a special mission for him; one that comes with great risk. At the same time, on Elysium, Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodi Foster), who is fed up with how Elysium is currently being run, orchestrates a coup that will remove the higher powers and place control of the space habitat under her leadership. However, when her coup goes awry, Delacourt activates a sleeper agent codenamed Kruger (Sharito Copley) to deal with the situation. Through his aggressive measures to complete his mission, Kruger sets in motion events that will lead Max, Delacourt, and himself on a collision course that will, for better or worse, change the social order between Earth and Elysium.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I continue write more movie review, I sparsely (here and there) go back to re-examine some of my old movie reviews from my old movie blog site (before I decided to move WordPress). I came across my old review for the film Elysium and decided to revamp for you guys to read on Jason’s Movie Blog (with some minor tweaks throughout). I remember I was surprised when I saw District 9 as I actually like and was definitely intrigued by its story. It was the big “sleeper” hit that summer and, for that matter, of the year of 2013. Thus, my interest was surely peaked when I heard about Blomkamp’s newest film Elysium. After seeing it, I felt that Elysium was really good, carrying over a lot of Blomkamp’s signature style of filmmaking, but wasn’t as awesomely stellar as District 9.
First and foremost, the visuals are phenomenal are truly are the absolute best part of the movie Elysium. From the ultra-sleek layout of the space habitat Elysium, to how the many robots that move and walk around, to the design of the various spacecrafts and to the variety of futuristic weapons used in the film, Blomkamp’s visual knowledge are unparalleled and is a true wonder to behold and to see come alive on-screen. In terms of filmmaking, Blomkamp presents Elysium with a slick presentation in a similar fashion to District 9, but to also blockbuster type movies. Camera angles, sweeping pans, slow-motion shots, and an overall cinematography (done by Trent Opaloch) are all good and help aid the movie (as a whole) with its numerous cinematic nuances. Additionally, the film’s score by Ryan Amon is pretty good, with a few key standout musical pieces worth noting.
Then there’s is the subject matter that Blomkamp address in his film. Much like how District 9 addressed the apartheid issue, Elysium takes several issues (Some of which hit close to home for some) and sets them in the movie’s backdrop including division of social classes (The rich and the poor), immigrations, and, even to less extent, health care. Some viewers might write this off as negative for the film, citing that the filmmakers have a political agenda, but I think it’s a bold idea to weave these themes into the film, bringing a more sophisticated level of intellect to a summer sci-fi action movie.
The first problem with the movie Elysium was the fact that its plot wasn’t a big surprise. The trailers for Blomkamp’s first film District 9 gave viewers a vague idea of what the movie was going to be about, leaving viewers guessing and surprised when they actually sat down and watch the movie. That same cannot be said with Elysium as the theatrical trailer for the movie pretty much gave you majority of the film within a 3-minute window. Because of this, the few twists it had, which weren’t shown in the trailer, were not that so surprising that I didn’t see them coming and wasn’t completely “Wowed” by them as I did with District 9. In short, it took a bold story idea, gave most of the main plot away in its trailer, and played out its narrative in a more conventional way from onset to conclusion.
With only a running time of 109 minutes, Elysium felt like it could’ve been longer, expanding upon certain things like Max and Frey’s relationship, the current state of the world during the time of the movie (viewers only get to see the city of Los Angles) and even spending more time on the space habitat Elysium and all the visual futuristic beauty of it. The movie also has such a serious tone to its narrative that it could’ve had done with a few more comical reliefs. There was a few here and there (especially when Max is talking to his robotic parole officer towards the beginning of the film), but more of those could’ve help lightened the mood of the overall gravitas of the movie.
Elysium’s cast is a small, but solid cast, led by Hollywood star Matt Damon as the film’s central hero Max. Damon, who’s been a big shot in recent Hollywood (in the ranks of other A-list stars such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney) is perfect Max, with his ability to play that sort of “Everyman” character and mold him into something more complex and endearing makes him the best choice for the part as it makes his depiction of Max that more believable. He can handle dramatic dialogue seqeunces as well as the film’s action scenes. Then there is Sharito Copley. What an amazing performance, literally a complete 180 from Wikus, a whimpering pencil-pusher of a man in District 9, to Elysium’s Kruger, a vicious and brutish assassin. His performance may come off as slightly over-the-top, but he’s more of a physical presence on-screen and it works well for what the story demands. On the other hand, while Copley’s Kruger was a force to be reckoned with, there was certain parts of the movie when he talks, especially when he’s screaming at someone, his words become garbled and you can’t make out what he is saying as if he’s speaking in tongues.
Though I’m not a big fan of hers, Jodi Foster’s portrayal of Delacourt is surprisingly good and only wished that her character had a bigger part to play in the overall story. Other noteworthy cast members include William Fichtner as John Carlyle, an Elysium citizen who is just as smug and shrewd as Delacourt is, and Alice Braga as Frey, a nurse who has known Max since they were children. In smaller roles is Diego Luna and Wagner Moura respectfully playing their characters of Julio and Spider, a thief-like friend to Max and a criminal coyote smuggle.
Fans of Blomkamp’s District 9, or Matt Damon, or anyone who loves a good science fiction film will thoroughly enjoy this gritty action movie of a dystopian future. It may linger in the shadows of District 9’s greatness due to several problematic elements (It may vary from person to person on what those are); most notably with its story’s plot that treads into familiar territory for its genre. However, Blomkamp’s makes up for that with his meticulous prowess of stunning visuals, great action sequences, a small but strong cast of actors, and tackling several key social issues that are just as relative and potent in the real world as they are in the film. That being said, much like how it was in 2009 with his first film, Blomkamp’s Elysium surely did breathe new life into the 2013 summer movie lineup of humdrum blockbusters, sequels, remakes, and spin-offs. The future might be grim and divided, according to Blomkamp, but the movie Elysium stands tall and proud in the sci-fi film universe.
4.1 out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: August 9th, 2013
Reviewed On: August 10th, 2013
Elysium is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout