I have always admired and been inspired by South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp. He immigrated to Canada at the age of 18 and graduated with 3D Animation and Visual Effects program from Vancouver Film School in 1998. He became a 3D animator on various TV shows such as Stargate SG-1 and Smallville. Then he started creating short films in his home country, starting with Tetra Vaal in 2004, Alive in Joburg in 2005 and Adicolor Yellow in 2006. Blomkamp was hired to make a film adaptation of Halo with Peter Jackson but the project fell apart due to financial disagreements. So Jackson decided to give Blomkamp an opportunity many filmmakers would dream of; he was given $30 million to come up with any film project he wanted to make. That film turned out to be 2009’s sleeper hit, District 9. The film received rave reviews from critics and was nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Picture and 7 BAFTA nominations including Best Film and Best Director to Blomkamp. Now Blomkamp gives us first original sci-fi feature film, Elysium.
The story is set in 2154 Los Angeles, where the city is over-populated, health care is scarce and vast majority of the population are Mexican immigrants. Meanwhile, the wealthy live on an orbital space station called Elysium. There the air is fresh, served by obedient androids and robots and free of disease, poverty and war. They also have Med-Pods, a medical device where it can cure many diseases such as cancer. Max De Costa (Matt Damon) an orphan who has left his life of crime to work at a factory run by Armadyne Corporation who is owned by a billionaire CEO John Carlyle (William Fichtner). One day, Max gets himself into an accident at the factory by being exposed to radiation and only has 5 days to live. Max now sets his eyes at Elysium and plans to get himself cured. This raises awareness of Elysium Secretary of Defense, Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), and she hires a sleeper agent named Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
The film is magnificent in scope and ambition. Blomkamp continues to bring social themes on class, immigration and even health care to his sci-fi blockbusters. It really is admirable that he decides to give the movie a lot more meat than what it really is on the surface. It was one of the main aspects I admired and adored with District 9, the themes of xenophobia social segregation (mainly inspired by Blomkamp’s experiences of the apartheid era in Cape Town). Subtlety isn’t the director’s specialty but the themes are approached head on and therefore make them relevant to current events that are not too fictional in its setting in the future. We see Max being the only Anglo-American citizen in Los Angeles, where the city itself has no identity or has since been long forgotten.
Matt Damon as Max portrays him as an everyday man and thus makes him a compelling lead. He has ambitions that are not too far from our own and makes us rooting for his success. When he is placed in a life threatening situation; he acts within a heartbeat, no matter how difficult the task may be. Jodie Foster’s Jessica Delacourt isn’t much fleshed compared to Max and only serves as a plot device to make the story go forward. Her accent is a little muddled, wasn’t too sure if she’s trying to be American or English or both? Also, the ADR work is poor at times (seems her voice was changed during post-productions for reasons that are not so clear). Though Sharlto Copley is the scene stealer of this movie as Kruger! He couldn’t be any different from his character in District 9; he is brutal but utterly entertaining to watch. He is absolutely relishing his job as a gun-for-hire and he will do anything to get the job done. It is quite refreshing to have a South African villain rather than being English, American or European in general. The rest of the cast do decent jobs in their roles; Alice Braga as Frey brings the heart to the story but like Foster’s character, isn’t fleshed out and comes off being the damsel-in-distress. The only downside of the movie is it’s slightly predictable where the movie is going but it doesn’t detract the quality of the movie as a whole.
Blomkamp is known to create photorealistic visuals and he continues that look in this film. It is absolutely gorgeous and richly detailed. Inspired by works of Syd Mead, concept artist who worked on designs for Blade Runner and Aliens. The film never once felt too futuristic, it all felt everything worked with a purpose and it didn’t need much to suspend your disbelief. The space station of Elysium does remind me of similar looking space station in Halo video game series but also had a mix of 2001: A Space Odyssey flavour to it. The visual effects for the cyborg robots looked stunning, every frame and pixel looked immaculate. The action sequences are intense but do have a sense the director likes to blow people up (a lot!). Though the director doesn’t shy away from the violence, every ounce of blood that is spilled is counted for and makes you feel every impact that is made. There’s even a scene where a character is put on a machine and it drew me in with fascination but also finding it very gruesome (will bring the meaning of reconstructive surgery).
Overall: another hit from director Neill Blomkamp. Doesn’t quite deliver up to the same level as District 9 but it’s another fascinating sci-fi/action movie that may cause some discussions (or debates). Incredibly exciting, beautiful visuals and the actors deliver great performances. Favourite movie of the summer. Highly recommended!
4 out of 5