Ever since I first watched District 9 all the way through (it did take me 2 tries to watch District 9, just because of the fingernail bit) I’ve been waiting to see what Neill Blomkamp’s next film would be. After hearing about the premise of Elysium, the ultimate sci-fi class warfare, I was even more excited to watch this film. Now that I’ve seen it, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong the film is great, but it feels watered down to make way for more action scenes.
The plot of the film concerns Max, a former car thief who’s trying to rebuild his life, getting a job at a factory to support himself. After he gets heavy radiation poisoning he needs to get up to Elysium, a space station for the super rich in order to get to the equipment to heal himself as Earth doesn’t have that equipment, with the whole planet essentially being a massive slum. Along the way, he also gets embroiled into a conspiracy involving the Defense Secretary for Elysium and a sleeper agent for Elysium Kruger. This plot can lend itself really well to a lot of good social commentary and for the first half of the film, it does. The symbolism between Earth-Elysium and Mexico-America is apparent from the first scene in the film and when the film works with the commentary on immigration it’s brilliant. The way in which we see life on Earth and the myth-making by the citizens of Earth towards Elysium is excellently done and likewise the disdain felt by the citizens of Elysium to Earth and the extreme measures the Defense Secretary will go to to ensure that Elysium’s border isn’t breached is brilliantly done. However, the second half of the film drops a lot of the social commentary and devolves into an action film. This makes Elysium feel really watered down and it feels like this was done to appeal to the stereotypical American audience, the same audience that have led to 20 minutes being cut from Snowpiercer. This is really disappointing as the second half of the film is open to a lot of ethical questions over what all the characters are doing and the long term implications of the actions but the film is so concerned about the action that these issues are never resolved or even addressed in any significant way. This feels a lot like what happened with District 9, in which the first half was incredible but the second half was more focused on the action but I feel it is worse here because all the interesting stuff raised in the first half wasn’t fully addressed, unlike District 9 which had the issues raised in the first half be prevalent in the second half.
The cast in this film is excellent though. Matt Damon really sells Max as someone who is desperate to turn his life around and is willing to do anything in order to give himself a better life, with Damon really selling the character motivation throughout the film and interacting brilliantly with the other cast members. Alice Braga is also great as Fray, brilliantly handling the stuff regarding her desire to get people the best medical attention possible by wanting to get them to Elysium but not being able to, especially in regards to her daughter, with Braga really selling the concerned mother aspect. The members of the gang are all brilliantly played, really selling the concern over getting people to Elysium whilst also wanting to make money in the process with Wagner Moura being particularly good as Spider. On the villains front, Jodie Foster feels a bit wasted, not really having much to do in the long run of the film and not really having that strong a character, plus the decision to play the character with a French accent doesn’t really make sense to me. William Fictner fares better as Carlyle as, despite only being a small role, Fictner fills the character with so much personality through his body language and line delivery that you really love to hate him. The real star though is Sharlto Copley as Kruger, easily one of the best villain performances of the year alongside Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3 and Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness. The character is a constant threat throughout the film and it’s clear that Copley is having so much fun in the role, bringing a lot of personality to Kruger, especially in his scenes with Damon and Braga.
The technical aspects of this film are also great. The production design and cinematography for both Earth and Elyisum is very distinct and brilliantly shot. The effects used to create the robot police are incredible, whilst they were CGI throughout the film, the effects work was so excellent that it does look like real robots were used for these scenes. I also really like the little details in the design, from tools that other films would build action scenes around being incidental to the stuff with cars/shuttles with the people on Earth driving cars from General Motors whilst the people from Elysium travel to and from Earth in Bugatti’s, all these little things really add up to the world of Elysium in the long run. If there is a downside to the technical side of the film it’s in the action scenes. Whilst Blomkamp brilliantly shoots the rest of the film, the action scenes are filled with so much shakey-cam and are so heavily edited that it is hard to keep up with a lot of these scenes.
Overall Elysium is a great film. Whilst the action scenes are shot quite poorly and the political message of the film could have been handled a lot better, when the film works it really works, mainly thanks to a great script by Blomkamp and an excellent cast.
My Rating: 4/5