In a summer rife with remakes, sequels and superheroes, Elysium stood-out as a rare blockbuster of originality. After the success of District 9 much was expected of writer director Neil Blomkamp. Having seen his planned adaptation of video game Halo fall through, Blomkamp was out to prove that he’s one of Hollywood’s elite at setting the benchmark for intelligent and engaging sci-fi.
In 2154 Earth has become a hive of scum, poverty and disease. The rich decide to leave the planet and orbit Earth in the heavenly habitat of Elysium where everything is perfect. When lowly factory worker Max (Matt Damon) is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation he’s told that he only has five days to live. Aware that if he can get to Elysium he can be cured, Max strikes a deal with gangster Spider (Wagna Moura) to steal Elysium access codes in exchange for a ticket to the space station. But head of Elysium security Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has other ideas and assigns mercenary agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to stop Max in his tracks.
While the story for Elysium plays out like a computer game, with each plot point and set-piece seemingly upping the ante without really increasingly the threat level, it is hard not to be enthralled by the world Blomkamp has created. Sticking with the decaying aesthetic of District 9, Elysium’s Earth is a dusty, detritus filled hell hole. Juxtaposing this to the perfection, gleaming haven that is Elyisum works. As District 9 dealt heavily in themes of Apartheid so Elysium cultivates ideas of the rich happily seeing us poorpers suffer, so long as they can’t really see it happening.
Throw in an endlessly inventive array of weaponry, the kind that would make most Metal Gear Solid fans weep with joy, and Elysium is an immersive and stunningly realised world. If nothing else it confirms Blomkamp as being something of a sci-fi master, in the same early vein as a young James Cameron or Ridley Scott.
Damon’s Max, coming across as an inked up, slightly cocky Jason Bourne, he is not the most interesting protagonist to invest in but his journey, in the always reliable hands of one of Hollywood’s most likable screen presences, is nonetheless engaging. Yes, the Christ-like metaphors are rammed home a little too hard but when Max spends most of the film reaching for the heavens it feels apt. Jodie Foster seems to be sporting one of cinema’s most unusual accent choices, somewhere between villainous British and drunk French. Her Delacourt is too boo-hiss to be anything other than stereotypical. Meanwhile Copley is clearly reveling in his hardened henchman role. Kruger is arguably the most interesting character on offer, a ruthless mercenary happy to inflict violence but would rather not do it in front of children. The harsh South African accent seems to be in place merely to enforce his evil ways but in Copely’s hands Kruger is hard not to enjoy, especially when he’s getting tooled up and medieval on Matt Damon.
Flawed narrative aside Elysium is a visually arresting and stunning realisation of a believably future. On this form Blomkamp can be heralded as a filmmaker whose work will always remain original and smart.