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DVD review: 'Elysium' (2013)

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Following up on his highly-regarded debut 'District 9', Neil Blomkamp gives us another science fiction offering, this one entitled 'Elysium.'

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In the year 2154, the wealthy live on an abandoned yet lush space station called Elysium. The poor are left to fend for themselves in a toxic, post-apocalyptic Earth. Occasionally, the poor inhabitants of this wasteland attempt to sneak onto shuttles traveling to Elysium which is where the ruthless Kruger (Sharlto Copley) is entlisted to take out any would-be illegal immigrants. This process is overseen by the cruel Jessica Delacourt (Jodi Foster) whose job is the preserve the lavish lifestyle of the residents of Elysium.

This story concerns itself with Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) an ex-con who works in a factory assembling Elysium's surveillance drones. Max is able to reconnect with an old friend named Frey (Alice Braga), who has become a nurse. Her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) is dying of leukemia with no hope for a cure.

Things change for Max when he is accidentally exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at work. He is told that he has five days to live. The only remote chance he has would be to get to Elysium and hop into a Med-Pod (that can apparently, cure almost anything). This is, of course, illegal so he has to take drastic measures which means getting involved with local smuggler Spider (Wagner Moura) who wants him to kidnap John Carlyle (William Fichtner), a major technology CEO with vital knowledge. Max agrees but is in a weakened state. Spider outfits him with a mechanical exoskeleton of sorts that dramatically increases his physical capabilities.

Let's rock.

The political perspective of this film is in no way ambiguous. You know exactly how Blomkamp feels about universal health care, immigration and socioeconomic inequality. The messages are spelled out as literally as possible with the rich being above the poor, having access to simple health care, etc. A little more restraint would have been nice in this regard, but some of these messages are vital to the story being told.

For one of these stories to work, you need to care about and identify with the main character. That is achieved by placing Max in a situation through no fault of his own and having him overcome some larger forces. Damon is good at what he does, even though his character's trajectory is predictable. It's really easy to get behind Max and to get swept up in the story, even though you might be able to see where things are going.

At the top of the food chain, Jessica Delacourt fits the bill as an ambitious villain, determined to climb the political ladder. Her freelance killer, Kruger is a nasty villain, but aside from his South African accent and a mean streak, he feels somewhat anonymous. Some of the best scenes involve him, but he could have been written a bit more memorably. Speaking of this bringer of death, a few characters meet unceremonious ends, which is fine because it's unexpected, but it does feel a little unsatisfying. One of these occurrences will definitely take you by surprise and has a novel twist.

We don't get to learn too much about the idealized paradise that is Elysium outside of the fact that it is the place to be. It certainly looks appealing yet the biggest selling point of it seems to be the healing chambers. Further explanation of this would have been nice.

Stylistically, it is unfortunate that this makes liberal use of the shaky handheld camera. It is a little less distracting than with some of the 'Bourne' movies, but it gets particularly frantic during the battle sequences. In some instances, it adds to one's feeling of being in the middle of the action which was the point. It's also important to point out that there are many instances where this film looks absolutely delightful. This is a big budget film and it looks it.

Special features include: nothing.

It has a few extra bells and whistles but really, 'Elysium' is a simple story that is told very well. It isn't an all-time classic for the genre, but there are enough memorable sequences and images to make it worth your time.

Rated R 108 minutes 2013


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