Writer/director Neil Blomkamp impressed me with his first full-length 2009 film “District 9”, I thought it was a good interpretation of just how an “Alien Nation” would affect a modern human society in a way that almost feel rather similar to a “Hotel Rwanda”. It was a valid attempt to be original and to be imaginative, with a direction that blended stunning visuals, a ‘mockumentary’ style of storytelling along with the usual conventional form of direction. So I was waiting for its sequel, but Blomkamp appears to feel that he needed to do something yet different with his 2013 film “Elysium”.
Elysium or Elysian Fields in Greek Mythology is a conception of the afterlife that evolved over time and was maintained by certain Greek religious and philosophical sects and cults. Initially separate from the realm of Hades, admission was initially reserved for mortals related to the gods and other heroes. Later, it expanded to include those chosen by the gods, the righteous, and the heroic, where they would remain after death, to live a blessed and happy life, and indulging in whatever employment they had enjoyed in life.
The year is 2154. Earth has become over-populated, over-polluted, that most of its population had become riddled with disease. The wealthiest of the population have retreated to an orbital world called Elysium, while the rest of humanity suffer, work for minimal wages and live with their potentially fatal diseases. Sad, since the key to every cure is available, but the rich would like to monopolize its benefits.
The film is pretty darned entertaining with the action sequences and the display of futuristic gadgetry; but it is also rich with social and political commentaries. Despite a futuristic setting, the screenplay by Blomkamp speaks a lot about today’s modern times. There is the rich getting richer; the 1 % against the 'poor' majority 99 %, as Blomkamp creates a world where social class have become the definition of ‘citizenship’. He does not take it easy with the metaphors of illegal immigration, health insurance and the current situation in the economy. In this world where the wealthy lives in a place in space, the rich feel that they have the right to play God, decide what they are entitled and just how to separate from those that are less fortunate. There is very little revealed as to how this futuristic world came to be, but then Blomkamp really does not need to. If one just takes a look at our environment and the economic crisis being faced by the world today, Blomkamp’s Earth of the year 2154 may not feel too far-fetched.
The first two acts of the film focuses on the Max character as we get to see his background through flashbacks, and just how he develops into the man he is in the film. Max is a man who has dreams of coming to Elysium, and he took several bad turns that he tries to make amends for himself. He is your regular hard-working joe who is struggling to make ends meet, and in many ways, his past life of crime becomes his own personal demon. Max may be the film’s lead character, but he really isn’t your usual heroic character. The man just wants to have a better life, and he is afraid to die; in many ways, Max is just trying to do what is best for him, and his dreams to stay connected to a woman named Frey (Alice Braga) appears to give him something to cling to. Frey is the woman who represents his youth and his innocence, before Max becomes exposed to the harsh realities of his world. Blomkamp does a good job encouraging his audience to become invested with the Max persona, it is a tale of just how a man changes, from someone a little cynical and frankly a little selfish, into someone who finds something different from his current perspectives in life.
I also enjoyed what Blomkamp brought forth from the orbital satellite called Elysium, as the writing gave a glimpse just how any society created by human beings, no matter how rich, no matter how smart will always have problems within. When the greedy lead the greedy, the politicians going for more clout with the masses, then things will always begin to collapse on itself. It is almost as if life may be harder for the poor, but their lives are also simpler; unlike the rules of the rich where everyone seems ready to backstab the other. It is almost as if the writing is trying to express the notion that the poor works hard to attain material wealth, all the while having it kept away from their grasp as the rich does whatever they can to maintain social status. It is an idea presented in a subtle way, and Blomkamp does not really go deeper into this area, but the message does linger around its narrative.
The film has some heavy themes but it is also visually arresting. Blomkamp and company did manage to create a world that very much looks like a view of the future, as well as something so familiar that the viewer could easily be enthralled by them. Blomkamp did a splendid job in maneuvering the camera to bring the viewer right in the middle of the action. The devices, gadgetry and weapons all had that sense of familiarity and yet they were something more advanced than what we were used to. With some practical effects in blood and gore, Blomkamp did not allow his film to be another one of those 'overdone' cinematic CGI effects, as he maintained an almost B-movie charm. Exo-suits, robots and computers that dictate a lifestyle could also be a warning about man’s over-reliance to technology, as Elysium and Earth were both controlled by such things. The set designs and cinematography were spectacular; from the slums of the Earth to the extremely high-tech world of Elysium, the characters did come alive around the set pieces. The character designs were simple, and yet they were fitting to Blomkamp’s creation.
While “Elysium” is indeed an action film, and the tempo is dictated by Max’s many encounters. But I felt that the final act of the film is the part where everything that Blomkamp was trying to say becomes a little hazy. From what had been established, and how things moved on Earth, Blomkamp seemed to abandon the workings of the Max character and the political overtones presented by Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) to turn its focus on the fighting between Max and the mercenary agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley). Max and Delacourt never met, and yet they made an impact in each other’s lives, it was a bad move to underutilize the potentials of Foster’s character just so the Kruger character could take the spotlight. Not to say that the fights weren’t good, but Kruger’s cheesy lines could definitely become annoying the more Copley delivers his lines. He was a one-dimensional villain that did not match the intricacies and the themes in the rest of the film.
Being an action-sci-fi film, Blomkamp does not really present many opportunities for his performers to shine, but Damon does an exceptional job even in his case. He portrays his character with such natural, realistic zest that it wasn’t hard to become invested in what he was going through. Alice Braga may play a character that may feel like a stereotype, but really, much of the roots of Max’s personality were formed around her. Jodie Foster is her usual self; she was able to command the scenes she was in, that her character became an excellent element in its story. Copley was alright in his performance but …well, he wasn’t the villain the narrative deserved.
I enjoyed “Elysium” but somehow, somewhere, Blomkamp seemed to stop short with the expression of his modern world commentaries and he began to be a little safe with his storytelling. I found the first two acts of the film to be its strongest points, and unfortunately, the way everything was wrapped up wasn’t as bold as its core premise. It was a shame that the film became predictable in the third act. It was almost as if the writing wanted to have a happier ending, that it lost much of its intended power. Still, “Elysium” is a film worth seeing. It is highly entertaining and the action sequences did provide that significant emotional feeling of urgency. Yes, the final act could’ve been a lot better, but it wasn’t enough to ruin its overall experience that “Elysium” is a film that I would definitely recommend. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
By Joan Alperin Schwartz Neill Blomkamp, writer and director of the critically acclaimed, 'District 9', once again brings us a thought-provoking, sci-fi, fantasy, action film. 'Elysium' starring Matt Damon, takes place in the year 2154. Earth is polluted, overpopulated and crime ridden. The … more
As a fan of director Neill Blomkamp's first movie, District 9 (2009), and his short films, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Elysium. Though it's not a total disappointment, Blomkamp's sophomore effort unfortunately doesn't match the brilliance of his debut. There's much to like and admire in the film. The visuals are gorgeous, thanks to some impressive design and special effects work by Syd Mead, Image Engine and Weta, and there are lots of clever and interesting … more
I really want to see this movie, I really do. But after watching the trailer, I know this movie and its content, especially the Class issue it explores is really going to piss me off. I know it is, but i'm still going to go see it anyways.