Elysium – Neill Blomkamp returns with another inspired futuristic sci-fi (minus the prawns this time)

After writer and director Neill Blomkamp’s impressive and thrilling first feature, District 9 (2009), the world has been waiting in eager anticipation to see what he does next. And after a 4-year wait his follow-up film is finally here: Elysium (2013). Similar to District 9, Elysium is also an ambitious sci-fi with a fictitious idea at its heart that actually says a lot about our own society. Rather than issues on immigration and racism in post-apartheid South Africa, which all featured in District 9, Elysium is instead about the unfair distribution of wealth and how poverty is dealt with, or not dealt with.

Set in the year 2154, ‘Elysium’ is in fact the name of space station on which all the wealthy occupants of Earth have evacuated to and now live in comfort. They get anything and everything they need including free health care which means they never get old or die. But what about the rest of the world? Well, they are all left back on the overpopulated Earth, struggling to survive amongst varying degrees of poverty, crime and poor health. One such Earth occupant is Max De Costa (Matt Damon) who ever since he was a boy has always dreamed of saving up enough money to buy a ticket up to Elysium. That’s easier said than done though for an ex-thief who keeps getting years added to his parole every time he gets into trouble, something that often happens to Max. One day though after a fatal accident at work Max is left clinging to his life, and he becomes even more determined to make it up to the elusive paradise world…

One element that really distinguished Blomkamp’s District 9 from other run-of-the-mill science fiction films was the overall look of it and the scope of the world Blomkamp had created. And again with his second film the first thing that hits you when watching Elysium is the vastness of the design and the sheer intricate detail of it. Every single set and location has been thought out and constructed to perfection in order to completely immerse you in this future world and to make it seem credible. However despite the fact that this is set in another time, for the most part it still feels like our modern-day society, albeit with a massive man-made space station in the sky and a few robots floating around. This similarity to our own time as well as the vastness of detail all give the film major groundings in reality and therefore make it all the more compelling to watch.

The story itself is also what draws you into this world and the film itself, engrossing you and never letting go of your attention for a single moment. Blomkamp’s script is clever and extensive without being difficult to understand. It is also hard to guess exactly what is going to happen next as the plot feels so different, a welcome and refreshing feature after a slew of Hollywood blockbusters in which you can practically draw a map to where each one is heading.

Blomkamp’s direction is another element that adds to the immersive quality of Elysium. His direction, as well as Trent Opaloch’s beautiful cinematography, draws you into this future world through his use of vast landscape shots and kinetic camerawork. Blomkamp uses his camera to get right into the action, which is particularly felt during one later fight in which the camera sweeps around the characters as they battle, putting us right there with them. His direction ensures the whole film, action moments and otherwise, are all thrilling to watch.

Matt Damon is brilliant as Max, the flawed hero, and is entirely watchable throughout. Rather than being a lughead who is all muscle and no brain, he is a damaged guy unhappy with his life and who is struggling to get through it. Damon ensures that we sympathise with Max straight away – a man trying to get back on track when everything seems to knock him down at every turn, even more so after his fateful accident. Damon is also funny when he needs to be, an element that makes this all the more fun to watch (as well as another technique that made District 9 so memorable). However it is Sharlto Copley that steals the show completely in his first villain role as the ruthless mercenary, Kruger. He is genuinely terrifying to watch, giving the sort of performance that makes you squirm and feel like you should turn away, but who also keeps you riveted to the screen at the same time. Copley is also occasionally so OTT that he becomes comedic, but in a good way. He is again another thing that keeps Elysium so entertaining.

This leads me to the last other major cast member, and the one who is here surprisingly disappointing to watch: Jodie Foster. Her performance as the Secretary of Defence, Jessica Delacourt, isn’t particularly bad, but there is nothing special or memorable about it really. However the one thing about her that is so off-putting to watch is the hilariously bad dubbing used for her character. The only explanation I can think of as to why they would use dubbing in the first place is because she filmed all her scenes in her normal accent, but was then asked (or asked herself) to re-record her scenes in a British accent for some unknown reason. At least I think it’s meant to be British…it’s hard to tell. Either way it just doesn’t work and the result is ridiculously poor.

Still, this is only a minor, minor flaw in comparison to the overall film itself and something that you can bring yourself to eventually ignore while watching it. Elysium is a compelling and exhilarating sci-fi that is fun and entertaining to watch and that thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, a criticism that can be aimed at other recent big blockbusters (I’m looking at you Man of Steel). Matt Damon is perfect, Sharlto Copley even more so and the fight scenes are fast and thrilling. But it is the beautiful and detailed design that stays with you, as well as the clever and refreshing story. And although this is a sci-fi set in the future, it couldn’t feel more relevant to us as a society right now, so much so that a lot of moments in this don’t seem so much science fiction, as science fact. One thing’s for sure though, the world will again certainly be waiting with bated breath to see exactly what territory director Neill Blomkamp visits next.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on September 12, 2013.

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