Elysium is not the first film about a space craft launched into the stratosphere to preserve the quality of human life, as anyone who saw Christian Alvart’s Pandorum in 2009 will confirm. A film about social discrimination between a developed and developing world isn’t too fresh either. A director at the helm who has already cut his auteur status through a series of viral short films and a feature debut presented by Peter Jackson however makes this a premise worth dusting off.
Blomkamp’s detailed vision of a divided existence where the rich become richer and the poor poorer is bigger, and always will be than his characters, but a little more depth applied to Damon’s muscular Max or his fellow earth companions wouldn’t go amiss. Their back story is agreeable; Max is a blue collar worker with a criminal past and visions of a better future, and his love interest Frey (Alice Braga) is a childhood friend whose cancer fighting daughter is driving her to desperate means. Such is the determined cascade of events however that their character development falls by the wayside. Damon does good as Earth’s last hope to escape to paradise but, with limited dialogue and honourable motives, he’s more of a Luke than a Han and the result is a little bland.
Tepid is far from the case fortunately with Max’s nemesis Kruger. Played by Sharlto Copley, Blomkamp’s childhood friend and heavily present in his past and future work, Kruger is a torrent of middle fingers, seething rage and simmering menace. Every pore of his character is filled with relish with his combat resembling more of a slow dance and the most intimate means of termination preferred.
Elysium’s Earth is familiar territory to anyone who has seen District 9 or any of Blomkamp’s short films. An endless slum that throbs with injustice finds rebels scheming underground with the sort of dusty technology that needs a good shake to get going. It contrasts sharply with slick camera effects that at times shift into shooter game mode, a technique quite unnecessary as the fight sequences are thoughtfully choreographed and aggressively impactful.
Elysium stands apart from similar other worldly action films in that it’s not afraid to get a bit dirtier. Blood seems bloodier, violence grislier. A firm believer of not performing violent acts in front of children, Kruger makes Frey’s daughter cover her eyes before he hits her mother in the mouth.
Bonus points then to Blomkamp for vision and a more aggressive take on the genre. If he could just muster half of the charisma for his leading man as he could for his leading villain this would be one of the most notable blockbusters of the summer.