Saturday 17 August 2013

Film Review: Elysium

"Our apologies to Matt Damon, we ran out of time"

Acclaimed director of 2009's surprise sci-fi hit District 9 (which was even nominated for Best Picture), Neill Blomkamp is back with another inventive portrayal of a gritty science-fiction dystopia in Elysium. Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley and Alice Braga, Elysium is good-looking and often well-acted film that overdoes it on the action.

Set in the year 2154, Elysium is about a world divided; the poor masses live in squalor on Earth, plagued by sickness and disease. The very rich live on Elysium, a glittering Mass Effect-esque space station that orbits Earth. On Elysium there is no disease, no death and no poverty. And with the help of some seriously kick-ass mechs, the rich are able to demand obedience from the peasants who scrounge for a living on Earth.

Jodie Foster as Secretary Delacourt
One man, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), is afforded the opportunity to throw-out the imbalance of society when he is given five days to live and has nothing else to lose. Together with childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) and slimy techie Spider (Wagner Moura), Max begins his journey to reach Elysium and right societies wrongs; at all costs.

The narrative in Elysium doesn't throw up many surprises (it plays out pretty much as you would expect) but that didn't bother me too much. I didn't sit there groaning and exclaiming "ugh, I saw that coming" and "yep, and now he will do this...see told you".

Instead, I just let the brilliantly-shot action sequences and acting carry me along on an adventure; Elysium does a great job of taking a real-life social problem, providing commentary on it and not coming across as preachy or lecturing.

The balance between social-commentary and gripping action is struck brilliantly, Blomkamp crafting an image of a dystopic future that resonates today. He doesn't shove it down your neck however, the film more being about the determination of Damon's character than the immense human injustice.

Damon is an effective, if fairly one-dimensional, lead. His character isn't anything special or very deep. Jodie Foster was delightfully hissable as the power-hungry politician planning to overthrow the President of Elysium.

The real star of the show however (if you can call him that) was Sharlto Copley as vicious mercenary Kruger. He is a really memorable and detestable villain (yep, villainy is really well represented in Elysium) and Copley injects a creepy, sinister edge to the character that unsettles the audience. In a good way; he's evil and grotesque because he is acted so brilliantly.

Blomkamp's direction is in equal parts gorgeous and jarring. The super slo-motion shots that are thrown into the film's action sequences are fantastic, Blomkamp using them to draw attention to the inventive and destructive futuristic weaponry the characters use.

However, the action ramps up relentlessly in the final act, getting to the point where it's simply too choppy and visceral. Also, the blood and gore can be confronting for people who weren't expecting it; one scene sees a man's face torn apart by a grenade only to be reconstructed, layer upon layer, in front of our very eyes.

In terms of aesthetics, Elysium looks great. The poverty-stricken Earth is realistic and believable (and not a far cry from many places we see in 2013) whilst the glittering towers of Elysium were suitably sci-fi whilst still being believable. The score is also pretty cool, full of intense techno thumps and drums.

It isn't perfect, but Elysium is a solid science-fiction flick that fans of action will get a kick out of. However, you can't help thinking afterwards that Blomkamp has played it a little too safe and sacrificed shock factor as a result.

I give Elysium: 7.5/10


  1. They didn't have orbital missiles on the space station?! Why! I saw this with some friends and it certainly provoked some good conversation though. We were arguing about who we might consider the 'bad' guy, and as we got further into the discussion, we found out that most of them were in rather ambigious moral territory. Who do you think would be the antagonist of this piece?

    1. For me, the bad guy is surely the bounty hunter played by Sharlto Copley. Or maybe it is Matt Damon? He did kill 'innocent' people on Elysium to save himself/the other girl.

      Thanks for commenting, good point!



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