Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
- I enjoyed witnessing Matt Damon’s character Max’s journey. We’re introduced to him as an innocent child full of dreams of wanting to escape his downtrodden existence and move to Elysium with his best friend Frey. Of course, dreams are seldom what they seem. We next see Max as a world beaten adult who has let go of his dreams. He stops looking to the sky for the faint glimmer of Elysium as it borders on the edge of the world. Somewhere along the way the realities of the dystopian nightmare have eroded away his dreams and left behind nothing but scars and tattoos. Max is just trying to get by but circumstance and destiny collide to once again waken his childhood dream. Unfortunately, that dream has been severely distorted. Max is a desperate man of few words. Matt Damon lend a softness to this character that makes you sympathize with him and everyone else caught up in the hellish version of Earth in 2154. As a result, you are drawn into the world because you are personally affected. Eventually we see Max become the reluctant hero who embraces his destiny because he understands that his dream doesn’t solely belong to him. In terms of character development, this is similar to how the character of Wikus in District 9 grows over the course of that film.
- Matt Damon is not alone in the acting department. Everyone brings their A-game to this. Jodie Foster is deliciously menacing with her words and heartlessness. William Fichtner delights in a small role as a capitalist pig. The supporting cast is also on point, but they don’t linger around too much. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura also stands out as the handicapped black market kingpin Spider. He certainly has some bats in the belfry, but he is an intelligent opportunist. However, the man who steals the show is Sharlto Copley. His portrayal of Kruger is the epitome of evil. This man is deranged and a true sadist. He has no morals, respect, loyalty, fear or tolerance. He’s clearly been driven mad from having been stuck on Earth while his employers lived the high life on Elysium. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants and I was genuinely impressed, and sometimes scared, by the sheer brutality of his words and actions. Moreover, I loved the look of the character and how he presented a formidable enemy for Max. Kruger is an animal bred to be a warrior with his multiple augmentations, scavenger-like mentality and willingness to destroy anything that stands in the way of a good pay day.
- In my opinion, I think the visual effects in Elysium are by far the best of the year. Painstaking attention to detail is afforded to every component of this world. If Oblivion was clinical and clean, then this is downright dirty like a back alley surgery. From the warning labels on the droids to the graffiti staining the walls, everything is designed to sell you Neil Blomkamp’s vision of an Earth that is a garbage dump. This is in stark contrast to the scenes on Elysium which looks like Beverly Hills recreated in space. That’s not a bad thing because it is deliberate and meant to draw your eye to the divide that has contributed to Elysium’s dystopia. The visuals are powerful and every details serves a purpose as nothing is superfluous.
- Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film for me was that it treated me like an intelligent viewer. Yes, I was there looking for entertainment, but Neil Blomkamp goes one step further by giving me something to ponder about. I appreciated that there was a lack of hand holding and brow beating about the world and the message. If you’re informed about the social, political and economic paradigms that govern and institutionalize inequalities and injustices, then you will appreciate that this is a plausible future. At that moment , the film becomes the very definition of great sci-fi. There might be people who are turned off by the depiction of Earth in the movie. However, I would contend that if we as a species took every wrong step, then the Earth of 2154 in Elysium is one of many outcomes. Great science fiction does not play it safe. It seeks to challenge you by giving you an escape that makes you question and re-evaluate your place within your present. It scares or inspires us to be and do better. In essence, Elysium is a movie filled with big action and even bigger ideas.
- Another significant thing I enjoyed was the technology on display in the movie. The Stanford Torus that houses Elysium is a thing of beauty. Uber-nerds will recognize the design from the Mass Effect videogames. I also loved the inclusion of bio-technology (brain uploads), augmentations (Kruger and Max’s exoskeletons) and all the medical marvels (med-bays!). The fact that the film is set in 2154 helps to sell the plausibility of these technologies. However, all this tech is already available or being researched right now. The best part about this technological indulgence is how it deepens the divide between the rich and poor. For the denizens of Elysium, the elimination of death, pain and suffering creates a stringent detachment which makes them a little less human. Hell, even their appearance has altered as their skin shows evidence of underlying physiological changes. This detachment is evident in the way they run away screaming from interloping “immigrants” and how William Fichtner’s character deals with his workers (“Cover your mouth! Don’t breathe on me!”). It’s saddening and affected me personally. I am a proponent of human evolution through technology, but at what cost? This promise of evil that accompanies technological advancement was something Blomkamp touched upon in District 9 as well, and I’m glad to see he has taken it to the next level.
- I was happy to see that there wasn’t a forced romance in this movie. It really helped the characters develop and be more believable. I wanted this to be a bleak story and I’m glad there was barely a smile in the entire movie. Also, thankfully it didn’t turn into a robot kill-fest. Blomkamp could have gone overboard with Matt Damon punching robots left and right, but I’m glad he didn’t and that the action was necessary rather than gratuitous. Of course, the gore is over the top (face grenade!), but I can forgive that because some of those weapons look like they could tear a man in half. The music is also enjoyable and helps drive the action and the story along.
- I wanted more Jodie Foster because I really enjoyed her performance. I think a confrontational scene with Matt Damon’s character would have really added a little more to the movie.
- The dialogue in the movie is good but not great. It’s not bad by any means, but I was hoping for a little more commentary from the characters about the world they live in. There’s always the risk that something like that could fall flat and sound unconvincing, but it might have helped define the convictions of the characters a little more.
- Exploring more of the world of Elysium and EArth would have helped the story develop a little more. We see very little of each and I was invested in the movie enough to want more. While that is a good thing, it also feels like something has been incomplete.
- The camera work is really strong, but I wanted to see more shots that were pulled out a little. There are instance of too much motion blur in the close ups shots. However, I’m nitpicking because I was enjoying the fights so much that I wanted to see a little more of the actors moving around in their exoskeletons and using their whole body. Oh! watch the film in IMAX!
As you can see there wasn’t a whole lot I disliked about this movie. This is rarely the case because I tend to be really picky. Maybe I’ll notice more things I dislike in subsequent viewings. For now, Elysium is by far the best movie of this summer. Depth and vision collide in furious form in Elysium to create an evocative and stylish science fiction film.