In 2009, writer/director Neill Blomkamp rocked the summer movie season with “District 9”, a sci-fi film that imagined an apartheid-like situation on Earth—but with aliens. That film went against all odds and expectations to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar that year. But can the same be said for Blomkamp’s latest feature, “Elysium”? It’s good, and different enough from most blockbuster fare, but lacks the originality his previous film had.
“Elysium” is a science fiction film set in the year 2154. Due to overpopulation on the planet, those who could afford it moved from Earth’s surface to Elysium, a space station orbiting the planet. On Elysium, everything is green and beautiful; there is no war, no crime, and most importantly, medical stations that can cure any citizen of any ailment, from broken bones to cancer. Meanwhile, those left to survive on Earth live in a filthy, diseased environment, working hard to make ends meet, all the while being monitored by droids, robotic police officers. An underground operation led by a man called Spider (Wagner Moura) sends rogue ships out to Elysium frequently in an attempt to let some of Earth’s citizens get medical help, but they are often shot down in Elysium airspace on the orders of Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who will do anything to keep illegal immigrants from tainting the Elysium lifestyle.
Enter Max (Matt Damon), a former criminal who wants to go straight, choosing to work in a factory rather than steal cars with his buddies. One day he suffers an accident at work that causes him to contract radiation poisoning, and he is given only five days to live. Determined not to let that be his fate, Max goes to Spider to convince him to get him to Elysium, but Spider has a job he wants Max to do first—one that could either risk the lives of Max and his friends—including nurse Freya (Alice Braga) and her terminally ill daughter—or change the fate of Earth and Elysium forever.
With “Elysium”, Blomkamp once again uses the science fiction genre not just as a form of entertainment, but to convey a message about Earth’s future that really isn’t too far from reality. The destruction of our planet due to its growing population is a fate we are currently heading towards, and if fleeing Earth became necessary, who would be the first to leave? Those who could afford it, of course. Therefore, Blomkamp’s message hits very close to home and strengthens the story.
That story is weakened, however, by characters who are either too generic or simply underdeveloped. It’s clear what Secretary Delacourt wants, but why does she want it so badly? Even Max is not one of Damon’s better characters. The flashbacks between his childhood and the present don’t seem to accomplish anything except to add a sense of sentimentality to his character, and really, he doesn’t have much of a personality. He reacts to many of the life-changing occurrences with little if any emotion, and his character doesn’t undergo any sort of change from beginning to end. The one standout performance comes from Sharlto Copley as the insane hitman Kruger, who is just so crazy that he’s fun to watch. However, despite the range of different characters, few of them stand out in any way to make them likeable or interesting.
“Elysium” has some decent action and special effects that drive the story along, and with its cautionary tale on top of that, it is worth watching. With some better characters, it could have been great. As it is, it’s just pretty good.
Runtime: 109 minutes. Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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