In 2009, Neill Blomkemp had his feature film directorial debut with District 9, offering us a look at Earth after a spaceship of sick extraterrestrials has become part of the South African sky scape. It was a huge box office success, so anticipation levels are high with his second film, Elysium. The end result is indeed impressive.
Blomkemp has assumed full writing responsibilities here and, as in District 9, he presents a fairly dark future. The year is 2154 and the never-ending class warfare has moved to new heights. The rich and powerful have abandoned a polluted and over-populated Earth for the orbiting space station called Elysium. On Elysium, life resembles Earth in its prime. The grass is green, the air is clean and Med-Pods keep everyone safe and disease free. Meanwhile, on Earth, those without the financial resources live in squalor, drudging up a meager existence working for those on Elysium. Our main character is Max, played by Matt Damon (star of the upcoming sci-fi flick The Zero Theorem from director Terry Gilliam). He is an orphan who has established a police record a mile long. He is fighting the system and is clearly holding on in hopes of one day reaching Elysium. His one true love is Frey (Alice Braga), whom he has known since childhood. After a chance reunion, Max clearly begins a quest to recapture the hope he had as a child. However, after a mishap at work leaves him exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and only five days to live, he starts a desperate last ditch effort to make it to Elysium.
An underground movement, headed up by smuggler Spider (Wagner Moura), has been sending people to the well-guarded Elysium in hopes some will get through the defenses and reach a Med-Pod to cure them of their illnesses. Elysium is protected by Jessica Delacourt (marvelously played by Jodie Foster), who has her own sights on the presidency. Delacourt is planning a coup and uses an official to create a reboot program for Elysium that will leave her in control. She wants to rule with a more iron fist, to protect her way of life, and she has no problem ordering the deaths of those on Earth. When Spider has an exoskeleton placed on Max, giving him super strength, a plot is hatched to steal the official’s knowledge. However, Spider and Max are unaware of the plot, turning the situation into something far more deadly.
Sharlto Copley, who played Wikus van der Merwe in District 9, is our main villain here, named Kruger. Also possessing an exoskeleton, Kruger is an out-of-control and psychotic liability for Delacourt. However, he is a necessity in order for her to reach her goals. What she doesn’t plan on is Kruger deciding that he’ll take the power and control Elysium himself, throwing another wrench into an already botched plan. Copley does an amazing job here, turning up the nut job factor to 11. His accent and overall appearance make him stand out amongst others in what could have been the stereotypical bad guy role.
Elysium is a dark and gritty vision of the future but its overall themes are very much in touch with modern-day reality. It parallels the health care crisis and the growing class divisions, which seem to always be present, generation after generation. The action sequences are plentiful, if not a tad confusing at time thanks to a shaky cam. Rapper Eminem was the original choice for the character of Max. Thankfully, his demands to film in Detroit were denied and a far superior Matt Damon assumed the lead role. He channels his inner Jason Bourne and guides us through what is eventually a very fun ride. Jodie Foster livens up the character of Delacourt with an odd accent in what is a rather stereotypical villainous role. However, Foster makes it work and brings an entertainment factor in what could have been a boring presentation.
Visually bleak, the mood is heightened by a score that reminds one of Oblivion (which reminded me of Tron). The movie isn’t the start of a franchise nor does it hold back. For you gore hounds out there, there are some very intense scenes, including one character getting his face blown off. That should appease the masses that have grown weary of PG-13 flicks. But don’t let the violence scare some of you away. I highly recommend Elysium as it’s become my second favorite movie of the year.