In 2009, director Neill Blomkamp gave us District 9, a quiet film that amazed with its visuals of an Earth populated by refugee aliens from space. Produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, the film was a great success in some ways for both the director and its lead, Sharlto Copley. Both Copley and Blomkamp reunite in Elysium, also adding Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, William Fichtner & Diego Luna.
I’ll admit that on seeing the film, I was impressed by the visuals, but my hype machine was cranked just a little too high. Any disappointments with the film are the result of my expectations after seeing the trailer. I thought I was going to see something similar to the upcoming game Watch Dogs, where maybe Matt Damon’s character would be able to hack & control a whole network, using it as he saw fit. He’d flip cars, crash planes and cause all sorts of interesting mayhem. The kid in me jumped in his seat at the thought of that.
What I got, however, wasn’t quite that. It came off feeling like a cooler, much better written version of 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic. This isn’t a bad thing by any means. The first hour of the film was very solid, but the second half shifted gears somewhat (at least for me, anyway).
Elysium is the tale of Max Da Costa (Damon), a former car thief who lives and works on Earth in the year 2154. The world is divided into an even greater scale of the Have’s and Have-Not’s. Most live on the overpopulated planet under horrid working conditions, run down pavelas and broken down roads. Those who can afford it can buy a ticket to live on Elysium, a large habitat orbiting the planet, filled with Mansions and other luxury homes. The houses also contain medical systems that can cure any ailment. When Max suffers an accident on the job that leaves him with only 5 days left to live, his immediate goal is to get to Elysium to cure himself. With the help of his friend Julio, Max meets up with a former associate from his crime days for a job that could give him what he needs. In order to complete his mission, Max is outfitted with an exosuit that makes him stronger. Considering that most of his enemies are robot sentries, the suit becomes a necessary asset.
Elysium is protected by Delacourt (Foster), who makes sure that any unauthorized ship is diverted. When Max’s job directly intervenes with plans of her own, she enlists the aid of Kruger (Copley), a somewhat unstable mercenary to clean things up. Will Max be able to heal himself? That’s what you’ll need to see to find out.
Visually, the movie is pretty good. Elysium itself is a marvel. If there was ever a Mass Effect movie to be made, effects makers wouldn’t have any problems recreating the Citadel space station, based on what you see here. Robot Police using futuristic weapons are well rendered, though they don’t really have the cool factor of something like say, I, Robot or Total Recall. It’s minimal in some ways, but effective. For a budget of just $115 Million, Blomkamp and his crew knew where to put the money.
Musically speaking, I did a bit of searching and found that supposedly the score comes from newcomer Ryan Amon, who Blomkamp found on YouTube. The music does the film some justice, though it isn’t anything sweeping and grand. It does what it needs to for the film, at least that’s how I felt. I hope to see more in the future from Amon, actually.
Cast wise, Damon is effective as always and I’ll admit that I liked Jodie Foster in this one, though she didn’t seem like she was given too much to do. The same almost applies to Alice Braga, who plays Da Costa’s childhood friend, Frey. Both Diego Luna and Wagner Moura (as Spider, Max’s former associate) had some interesting moments. The standout by far is Sharlto Copley. His Afrikaans accent is pretty strong, and almost makes it hard for you to catch what he’s saying, but he’s creepy. If the Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willy somehow caught rabies, his mannerisms would probably be what you get from Copley in this film. Very wild stuff there. He and the effects are the best parts of the film for me.
On the second half of the film, I felt as if the film shifted from a drama to an action film, but I don’t know. There was something odd about it. It wasn’t new for me – District 9 did the same thing in it’s 2nd half, but Elysium seemed as if with all the robots and all the guards, some of the events occurred just too easily and without their intervention. I didn’t get a feeling that there was danger around every corner, but that’s just me and it’s a very minor gripe on my part. There weren’t too many cheer moments for me (and by “cheer moments”, I refer to those scenes where you want to yell something but keep yourself in check – or forget to do so and yell anyway like with Pacific Rim). It was a little generic for me, despite the original and fresh elements leading up to it in the setting and Da Costa’s sense of purpose.
Overall, Elysium gives the audience an interesting situation, and populates it with at least 2 good characters (in Kruger and Da Costa). See it for the visuals and the solid first half, but don’t expect the story to be the best thing in the world. Just enjoy it for the escapism.