Synopsis: In the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined planet. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the crime and poverty that is now rampant throughout the land. The only man with the chance to bring equality to these worlds is Max (Matt Damon), an ordinary guy in desperate need to get to Elysium. With his life hanging in the balance, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission – one that pits him against Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her hard-line forces – but if he succeeds, he could save not only his own life, but millions of people on Earth as well.
Release Date: August 9, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Action
It’s been four years since writer/director Neill Blomkamp reenergized the science fiction genre with District 9, his subtext-packed yet still exciting tribute to Earth-locked aliens. His follow-up: a dystopian film with still more subtext, Elysium.
Elysium is set in the year 2154 on an Earth that is overpopulated, under-resourced, and disease-ridden. The wealthy have abandoned the planet, becoming citizens of Elysium, a giant space station that orbits the Earth while the poor and underprivileged are left on the planet to rot. Max (Matt Damon from Contagion) is a man who, ever since he was a young boy, has dreamed of someday having enough money to buy his way to Elysium. While growing up, Max was a legendary criminal, but now he is content to legitimately work in a factory that makes military droids. While at work, he suffers an accident in which he is exposed to a high level of radiation and, as a result, he is given five days to live. Through his underworld connections, he tracks down a man named Julio (Diego Luna from Contraband) who offers to help him get to Elysium, where they have medical beds that can cure his radiation poisoning, but Julio wants something in return.
In exchange for passage to Elysium, Max is told to steal the brain information from a rich businessman named John Carlyle (The Lone Ranger‘s William Fichtner) and download it into his own head until Julio can retrieve it. Max does, and the information is more than Julio could have hoped for; it contains the reboot codes to the defense systems for Elysium. With them, Julio can make every person on Earth a citizen of Elysium. A politician named Delacourt (Jodie Foster from The Beaver) on Elysium figures out that Max has the codes in his head and sends one of her operatives on Earth, a real badass named Kruger (District 9‘s Sharlto Copley) to hunt Max down. Max finds himself in a race against time and in a battle with Kruger to get to Elysium to save his own life, and possibly all of humanity.
While Elysium is not an actual sequel to District 9, it does feel similar, like a companion piece of sorts. Except for the absence of Prawns in Elysium, the two films could exist in the same fictional universe. It’s a much more subtle type of science fiction film than, say, Star Wars or John Carter in that it’s not over-the-top with unrealistic technology or settings. There are still plenty of impressive visual effects, but they are used tastefully to advance the story rather than create it. Elysium is a different kind of sci-fi film, kind of like Blade Runner without the neon.
Matt Damon has proven himself as both a dramatic actor (Good Will Hunting) and an action star (the Jason Bourne movies), but fans should not kid themselves about his performance in Elysium. One glance at his washboard abs will reveal that this film falls squarely into the action category. Blomkamp attempts to add heart and soul to the story by including a subplot about Max’s childhood girlfriend (played by I Am Legend‘s Alice Braga) who needs to get her leukemia-stricken daughter up to Elysium and into one of the cure-all medical beds as well. However, this side-story simply functions to raise the stakes for Max in his quest to get there himself, and gives Kruger another device with which to try and stop him. The dramatic story serves the conflict in the action story, and that’s fine. No one wants to see a story about a little girl with leukemia when they go to see Elysium.
Most good science fiction is allegorical, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the metaphors in Elysium. In addition to the whole rich/poor division, the film also makes bold statements about police states in America, the power of politicians and their armies, and health care for the underprivileged. There is way too much symbolism and allegory to go into without spoiling key plot points, but it’s safe to say that Blomkamp is every bit as political in Elysium as he was in District 9.
The world that is created in Elysium is a pretty realistic looking depiction of how the Earth could look in another hundred and fifty years. Neill Blomkamp enlists the help of District 9 production designer Philip Ivey (who also cut his teeth doing art direction for the Lord of the Rings movies), and the poverty-stricken Earth that they put forward is pretty convincing, as is the affluent greener pastures of Elysium. There are plenty of fun sci-fi gadgets strewn about just to remind the viewer that the film takes place in the future; cool things like laser shields and armored exo-skeletons, but the overall impression is a gritty, downtrodden Earth not unlike the one presented in District 9 or, perhaps even closer, the world of Children of Men. Although the image of Earth is disturbing, it is organic; it could be a believable glimpse into the ugly future of the planet.
Although Elysium is a science fiction movie, an action movie pumps away at its core. Max and Kruger spend practically the entire second half of the movie fighting, and it never gets old. Part of it is editing – Blomkamp mixes it up by using his fair share of The Matrix slo-mo technique – and part of it is good choreography and camera work, but mostly it’s just that two guys beating the hell out of each other is really fun to watch. Whether Max and Kruger are going at it hand-to-hand or trading explosive gunfire, Elysium is action movie gold. Granted, most of the heavy lifting is done by stunt doubles, but that’s probably what makes it so convincing, and that’s what movies are all about – suspension of disbelief. In the hearts and minds of the audience, Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley are smacking each other all over the place…and it’s good.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Neill Blomkamp
- Screenwriter(s): Neill Blomkamp
- Cast: Matt Damon (Max)Jodie Foster (Delacourt) Sharlto Copley (Kruger)Alice Braga (Frey)Diego Luna (Julio)William Fichtner (John Carlyle)
- Editor(s): Julian Clarke
- Cinematographer: Trent Opaloch
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Ryan Amon
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA