Most of us first heard of director Neill Blomkamp when he was pegged to helm a live-action Halo adaptation alongside producer Peter
Jackson. That project fell through and in its place we got District 9, a brilliant and unique science fiction film that transcended genre bias to
receive a best picture nomination at the 2010 Oscars.
Although it doesn’t match his triumphant debut, Blomkamp’s return to sci-fi with Elysium still makes for an entertaining dystopian action
picture with a hint of the social relevance the filmmaker infused into District 9.
Set in 2154, Earth has become a slum. The wealthy have moved to Elysium, an orbiting space station complete with luxurious manors and
advanced medical technology inaccessible to the unwashed masses on the planet below.
Elysium isn’t as outwardly allegorical as District 9, but Blomkamp does present a world where the gap between social classes has grown to
an extreme. The elite bask in luxury and excess, while everyone else lives in squalor. And although we are led to believe this is a story
about class warfare, it’s actually a more accurate metaphor for health care.
Unlike Earth’s inhabitants, Elysium residents have access to a medical system that can cure any illness in seconds.
This is in stark contrast to the care Matt Damon’s Max receives after a factory accident exposes him to a lethal dose of radiation.
Max is left in a room where a mechanized doctor informs him he has 5 days to live before tossing a bottle of pills at him. They ‘will keep you
functioning normally until your death,’ he’s informed in one of Elysium’s rare comedic moments.
Just about all the humor in the film stems from Max’s interactions with deadpan droids.
Well, except for Sharlto Copley’s over-the-top performance as the henchman to Elysium’s evil administrator (Jodie Foster with an awkward
Copley is pretty funny; although I’m not entirely sure it’s intentional. Still, entertaining is entertaining, and he is memorable despite his
character being a directionless lunatic.
In a way, Elysium may have benefitted from a bit more of this kind of bravado. The film is perhaps a bit too conventional.
The plot is relatively straight-forward, with Max desperately trying to infiltrate Elysium for his own survival. There’s also a convenient plot
device involving Max’s childhood friend’s daughter also being in need of the medical aid only Elysium can provide.
Blomkamp’s direction does pick up much of the slack, however. His energetic action sequences and the presentation of dystopian Earth
are both excellent. Once again, Blomkamp supplies a highlight reel of futuristic weaponry and extreme violence.
Also like District 9, Blomkamp showcases a masterful sense of pacing. At a brisk 109 minutes, Elysium is a well-oiled machine that never
plods or feels rushed.
Damon is also very good as Max, providing a likeable presence to a character that is underdeveloped despite a number of flashback
As a child, Max looks up to Elysium and dreams of getting there someday. There is perhaps a vague metaphor regarding the pursuit of
wealth above all else, but it’s never fully explored.
Elysium has some deeper messages under its surface, but they are never realized.
This is a story that introduces great ideas, but never commits to them, instead retreating to more accessible action sequences and stock
The attempt at intelligence is still admirable, however, and even in its clichés Elysium entertains and even thrills thanks to Blomkamp’s
While Elysium never achieves the excellence it hints at, it’s still an engaging sci-fi film. The action is superb and the realization of the
ruined future Earth is exceptional.
Elysium is a good film, but outside of its novel concept, it’s not destined to be a particularly memorable one.
* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley,
Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner
Music by: Ryan Amon
Cinematography by: Trent Opaloch
Released: August 9, 2013; 109 Minutes