It’s hard to imagine a director’s first film being on the level of District 9. This was a reality for South African director Neill Blomkamp who stunned the world with a movie that was wickedly entertaining, funny, and satisfying for both hardcore sci-fans and casual moviegoers. Believe it or not, District 9 was released 4 years ago, and Blomkamp has been hard at work on his follow-up to it, Elysium. Unfortunately it no matter what Blomkamp did, it seemed like anything that followed District 9 would always live in its shadow. Elysium is a fine fine sci-fi flick, but it’s missing something that will leave it remembered as just a decent summer flick, not a long lasting sci-fi classic.
Elysium takes us to the year 2154 where there are two separate classes of people. Those who live on a poor suffering version of Earth, and those who live on a privileged space station called Elyisum. It houses the rich, featuring no disease, war, poverty, or the burden of those who are poor, sick, and suffering. Just as he did with District 9, Blomkamp hits on the different levels of class in society, and their effects. Our hero is Max Da Costa, played by Matt Damon. He has a shady history as a car thief, and is trying to keep a low profile and get through his less than satisfying day job at the factory of Armadyne, the company that built Elysium. One day at work Max gets stuck in a room causing him to accidentally get exposed to lethal levels of radiation, leaving him with only 5 days to live.
This leaves our hero with no choice but to find a way to get up to Elysium, where he could be cured by one of their special machines that can cure literally any disease or illness. The only problem is, getting up there is nearly impossible. Secretary of Elysium Jessica Delacour (Jodie Foster) has her hand in all the right pockets, such as the intimidating South African mercenary Kruger (Disctrict 9’s Sharlto Copley) who will shoot down any ship that attempts to breach Elysium with missiles. Max needs to find a way to get up there, and goes through his friend Julio (Diego Luna) who can attempt to get him up there with the help of a smuggler/hacker named Spider (Wagner Moura), a man who specializes in attempts to sneak people onto Elysium. He arms Max with a exoskeleton that revamps him as a lethal force giving Max a chance to extend his life.
What Elysium gets right is its visual and special effects. Blomkamp marvelously imagined Elysium and the Dystopian version of Earth. The action sequences are mostly well crafted, with some mind-blowing explosions that are often ruthlessly attached to people, in similar fashion to District 9. Blomkamp has an imaginative mind, and it shows in his gritty special effects. The acting is there. Damon is the man for the job. I can’t imagine Eminem or Die Antwoord’s Watkin Tudor Jones, who were both considered before Damon, in his spot. Jodie Foster will make you hate her, which is always the sign of a job well done. Sharlto Copley interjects just enough of his unique wit to make his enforcer role as Kruger satisfyingly creepy, and bad-ass.
The problem with Elysium is the story and writing is just missing something (Blomkamp wrote the script). Elysium doesn’t shy away from issues such as class disparity and health care, which I commend, but these issues are sloppily handled by the film’s conclusion. The storyline with the childhood flashbacks didn’t do anything for me, which was a big fault as I never felt as attached to Max as they clearly intended through the use of these. By the end of the film, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by it all.
The film never breached the level of pretty good and it’s a shame, because there was many possibilities for Elysium to achieve greatness. I did enjoy most of Elysium on the whole, but I really wished I loved it. It doesn’t achieve all that it could of which seems like such a waste, because it had an opportunity to really be something great.