In the not too distant future, the Earth is overcrowded and resources are running out. The rich have moved to an orbiting space station named Elysium, leaving the poor to fend for themselves on the ruined planet. Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-con trying to earn enough money for a ticket to Elysium, but an accident at work means he need to speed up his plan.
Neill Blomkamp burst into public consciousness with his alien apartheid film District 9, that challenged our notions of alien invasion and the impact it would have on our lives. Blomkamp has created another sci-fi thriller in Elysium, but again, mixes political thriller, social commentary and sci-fi opera together to create a rich and nuanced film.
Matt Damon is on great form here; he obviously relished the opportunity to get his action on again and, while he does not break much new ground – and spends much of the film only looking out for himself – he makes Max a relatable hero, whose actions can be easily understood, even in their selfishness. Sharlto Copley returns to work with the director who made him a household name, and not only gets to play the villain, but seems to relish the opportunity. Kruger is vile and opportunistic and on some levels, as selfish as Max. Jodie Foster does fine with what she is given, but does not get to be much more than a corrupt politician; she does not even get her moment of redemption. Also, it seems as though her dialogue was redubbed and, rather annoyingly, is a split second out of sync for much of the film.
The story feels like a mix between Wall-E, a political thriller, Battlestar Galactica and any post apocalyptic movie you could care to mention, although the parallels with Wall-E are slightly more prevalent. In this way, Elysium doesn’t feel particularly original, but it is a familiar story told in an exciting and interesting way. There may be complaints that Blomkamp has lost the narrative originality that made him interesting, but this is a fresh spin on an old tale.
Visually, the film looks fantastic; the contrasts between Elysium and the devastated planet are stark and commanding, and any CG elements that have been added are done in an almost seamless manner. It’s a shame they could not do the same for Foster’s dialogue though. As well as this, the film does feel drawn out at points, and there are definitely moments where the pacing lags.
In all, Elysium is a combination of many genres, and an interesting look at what humans will do to survive. This is Damon’s film, although Copley manages to steal the show several times. While we don’t get to see much of the mythical Elysium, that’s sort of the point; the film is about the journey, not the destination. Neill Blomkamp has created a great, twisty tale, and while it may not be incredibly interesting, it is almost wholly entertaining.