Director Neill Blomkamp’s second sci-fi feature venture follows the story of Max, played by Matt Damon, who is out of jail for car theft and is trying to live a normal life in the year 2154. By this point, most of Earth has become one giant slum, for example the setting of the movie is a post apocalyptic looking Los Angeles, however, the very richest members of society decided to build a space station where they could live in luxury called Elysium.
One day while at his factory job, Max gets into an accident and is exposed to extreme radiation that gives him cancer. Having no other options left to rid himself of it, Max decides to go to Elysium where they have pods that can heal just about anything. To do so, Max meets with an underground group that are trying to make it to Elysium as well and Max volunteers to take on a dangerous mission that will take him where he needs to go.
Because of his weakened state, he is also given a powerful exoskeleton suit that gives him advanced strength, however, he is being hunted by a dangerous agent from Elysium named Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley.
Like Blomkamp’s first movie, “District 9,” “Elysium” is an intelligent film with good ideas and well thought out premises. The issue is that they aren’t the best executed. The problem is that “Elysium” turns out to be more of a message driven story than a character driven one.
Good sci-fi should in fact have commentary on todays world, and “Elysium” has it, delivered in a way that isn’t bashing you over the head. However, the characters of the movie just don’t get much time to develop and the story feels rather bland because of it.
The lead hero, Max, never really feels all that compelling. Damon does have a natural charisma that helps to make Max a tolerable protagonist to follow, but the material makes for a less than interesting one. The emotional connection to his plight and everything he’s going through just doesn’t come through.
Jodie Foster, who played Elysium’s head of security, Delacourt, was a rather generic villain. Her motives were unoriginal and Foster played the character in a way that felt dull. On the other side of the spectrum, though, Sharlto Copley plays the other villain Kruger very well. Copley makes the character so wild and crazy that it does in fact make for menacing character and a good antagonist.
The rest of the characters written into the movie were more or less forgettable though. William Fitchtner did make an appearance in the film and my hopes were raised because he can usually add a good dimension to a movie, however, he is underused. Max’s childhood friend, Frey played by Alice Braga, was a prominent character but unfortunately just wasn’t strongly written enough to be memorable.
What Blomkamp does get right though are the technical aspects. From the sound editing to the special effects to the weapon and spacecraft designs, everything on that level works very well. The amount of detail that the director puts into the movie is vast and it shows that Blomkamp really is superb in the visionary department. The climax of the film is well directed and provides for a lot of thrills. The action in this movie is very intense and well done, and it did help the movie rise up a bit.
“Elysium” doesn’t come across as a sci-fi game-changer. The theme and message about the rich and poor is well put together with a good premise, yet, it’s not necessarily the most original concept, especially for sci-fi. For example, the 1927 film “Metropolis” had a commentary on the same themes.
The issue is that, unlike “District 9,” “Elysium” doesn’t make that emotional connection which makes it underwhelming as there is nothing truly compelling about it. However, there are good things and nice moments in there. The visuals and sound design are at such a high level that do in fact raise the bar.
Blomkamp has a real nice sci-fi action film on his hands and it is worth a watch for that experience. However, this isn’t one for the ages like his previous picture was. 3 out of 5.
This review was first published in the Aug. 9, 2013 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News.