Columbia/Tri-Star // R // August 9, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted August 8, 2013
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In 2009, writer/director Neill Blomkamp brought us the science fiction hit District 9. This genre isn't particularly my favorite, but I have always enjoyed the dynamics of a motion picture that explores a corrupt society. Blomkamp's newest picture Elysium most certainly carries some elements that have previously been explored, but this post-apocalyptic film has some tricks of its own. However, they're in short supply, as the majority of them have been utilized by several other filmmakers. Regardless of the movie's lack of originality, it's still able to entertain and keep its audience invested in the lead character. While this isn't the masterpiece that some moviegoers were hoping for, it still manages to be a worthwhile feature.

Set in the year 2154, the planet of Earth has drastically changed. It has become a wasteland filled with only the poor. A countless number of individuals are horribly sick, but they don't have the technology or the money to heal themselves. Wealthy persons moved to a man-made space station, which is rich with resources and a beautiful atmosphere. Max (Matt Damon) makes the horrifying decision to fight for equality between the polarized worlds. However, there is no peaceful or legal way to accomplish this mission. He realizes that he will not be successful by himself, which requires him to get aid from some people from both his childhood and criminal days.

We're provided with a small amount of backstory with the use of flashbacks to Max's childhood. He has always wanted to go to Elysium, but would never be able to afford a ticket. However, he was taught to aways remember where he came from: Earth. After being involved in a life of crime, he decides to clean himself up and get a real job. He starts saving every penny in order to purchase a ticket to the man-made space station. However, the film doesn't truly kick into high gear until Max receives a lethal dose of radiation while working. He only has five days to live, but has been provided with medication in order to feel normal until he dies. The only way he can survive is to venture to Elysium in order to use their medical facilities. Max discovers that this mission would change everything on Earth and Elysium. One of the film's most refreshing elements is its lead character Max. Blomkamp keeps us invested in this man, but never uses him as the typical hero. While some of his perspectives will surely change throughout the duration of the narrative, his motivation is selfish. This is a nice change from the stereotypical science fiction "hero."

Apart from being entertaining, Elysium has its share of social commentary, which speaks about modern times, as well as its future setting. Neill Blomkamp tells his story using the dynamics between the 99% and the 1%. There are a large amount of obvious metaphors that are made to the issues that we're currently facing with social and economic changes. A lot of science fiction films have commentary, but some features are more subtle with it than others. Blomkamp hits the audience over the head with it, which can sometimes pull the viewers away from the movie. Regardless, the plot doesn't remain intriguing for the entire running time, since the ending is predictable from the first frame. Even though we're left knowing that Max and Frey (Alice Braga) have strong feelings for one another, the interactions never feel quite genuine enough. The dialogue doesn't sound like it's coming from two individuals who grew up together with such a powerful bond.

The third act of the film changes its tune. It focuses less on Max's ongoings, and those of Elysium's Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster), and more on the constant fighting between Max and government-hired agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley). Even though Delacourt and Max don't have direct interactions, their dynamics are much more engaging. Kruger becomes an increasingly irritating villain as the motion picture continues. It feels like a wasted opportunity how Secretary Delacourt is so criminally underutilized. Max's fight sequences with Kruger are fun, but almost every word that comes out of the antagonist's mouth is quite tacky. He's a generic villain that happens to know how to use technology very well in battle. It simply doesn't feel worth throwing away the Secretary for, especially when she has her shining moments where she can be quite evil.

When it comes to the performances, there isn't much to write home about. However, Matt Damon is the exception to the rule in this case. He represents Max in a way that makes it incredibly easy to sympathize with the character. Even though we might not always agree with Max's decisions, Damon is an absorbing sci-fi action star that delivers the goods. The same cannot be said about the remainder of the cast. Jodie Foster is a two-time Oscar-winner, although she's guilty of over-acting a bit in Elysium. Secretary Delacourt is an excellent role, and Foster delivers a few scenes accurately, but she takes the performance overboard for the majority of her screen time. Sharlto Copley simply isn't satisfying as Kruger. He becomes increasingly irritating as the movie continues, making it difficult to take him seriously as the antagonist. Alice Braga is quite generic as Frey. She has absolutely no chemistry with Damon on screen. Braga is fine by herself, but she lacks charm with other individuals.

Writer/director Neill Blomkamp didn't entirely deliver with his cast's performances, but he provides a stunning set of visuals. The color palette is quite similar to that of this filmmaker's previous film District 9. The colors are muted and there are times when the feature employs a documentary-esque feeling. However, the motion picture has clearly received a much bigger production budget. The CG work is impressive, as is the audio track. Elysium itself looks absolutely phenomenal, especially as it contrasts so seriously to the tone found on Earth. The action scenes are incredibly entertaining, as Max is forced to wear a mech-suit in order to increase his strength, which makes the fights much more fun.

Neill Blomkamp's follow-up to District 9 isn't as strong as audiences anticipated, but it's still a solid sci-fi action picture. If you're looking for a unique plot and sophisticated narrative progression, then you'll be disappointed. However, if you're expecting a fun post-apocalyptic motion picture, then you'll be more likely to enjoy this feature. Surprisingly, the film's protagonist is quite sympathetic, despite being an anti-hero. Regardless of Elysium's faults, it remains to be a solid piece of entertainment. Recommended.

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