In 2009, Neil Blomkamp caught everyone’s attention with his science fiction masterpiece, District 9. The film earned 4 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Everyone was eager to see what Blomkamp would do next. Elysium is his highly anticipated film, the one meant to prove that District 9 was not a fluke. Unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed by Elysium.
The year is 2154. Earth is a ruined, overpopulated, and a garbage dump where the poor live. While the rich and privileged live on Elysium, a space station orbiting the planet. On Earth, Max (Matt Damon) has an accident at work involving radiation exposure, with only days to live he takes on a mission to find a way to Elysium, by any means, to get himself cured.
When I saw District 9 for the first time, I thought it was the one of the most brilliant pieces of science fiction since The Matrix. It was intelligent, captivating and full heart. When compared to it, Elysium feels more like another mindless action flick of the summer. With District 9, Blomkamp set the bar high for himself but while watching Elysium one can’t help but feel a regression in his work. It feels like he forgot why people loved District 9. It was intelligent. The way the story unfolded and the format in which the story was displayed was absolutely brilliant. Elysium just felt too by the numbers, in comparison.
Elysium doesn’t have that maturity you’d expect, from a director taking everything they learned from their first film and applying it to the second one. Instead, Elysium succumbs into a typical summer popcorn flick, with all the action and special effects, ignoring the films main themes of poverty, immigration and overpopulation. Once Damon’s Max gets his exoskeleton suit, it starts a domino effect of action that never stops until the final few moments of the end. That is when the film connects the themes mentioned in the beginning. The problem with that is that everything in the middle feels like filler, just to get Max to the end of the film, where he makes his final decision before the film ends. You can’t help but feel unsatisfied by the whole affair.
On the other hand, the film is visually stunning. It is obvious that Elysium had a much bigger budget and Blomkamp made good use of it. The CGI perfectly blends in with the real world effects. The action sequences are stunning and exciting, while the art direction is out of this world. It all helps to create a truly believable world.
Sadly, great visuals can’t help the script, which attempts to discuss themes that are relevant to our world but it never properly addresses them. You never get the point Blomkamp wants to make. There will be people saying that his stand on the matter is quite obvious but that is just people searching for answers that were never given. This is because action and chaos rules a huge majority of the film. The addressing of themes should have been staggered throughout the film instead of just the beginning and the end. I wish there was a balance because the points that Blomkamp was trying to make would have probably been more evident.
The cast of the film is terrific. Max Damon has proved that he can be action star and does so again. He isn’t stretching his acting muscles by any means but is completely serviceable in the role. Jodie Foster plays cruelty extremely well as Delacourt, Elysium’s secretary of defence, who will protect Elysium from outside forces using any means necessary. The real highlight amongst the cast is Sharlto Copley’s villainous undercover agent, Kruger. An absolute despicable human being that you will hate but is also captivating when he is onscreen.
It may seem that I’m being overtly negative regarding the film but it’s only because it had so much potential. It had all the necessary traits to achieve greatness but choose to be conventional instead. It never feels like intelligent storytelling but instead is completely predictable.
Despite the negatives, Elysium is fun but the fun only comes from the action and violence on screen. The emotional and thematic beats of the film are completely unsatisfying. It may devolve into a mindless shoot em up but it is still the smartest blockbuster of the summer. It is predictable but I’m sure there will be those who will love this film unabashedly. I felt unsatisfied after watching the film but I would at least recommend a rental, because you never know, you might enjoy it more than I did.
Score: 6.5 out of 10