Movie Review: Elysium

This is my 25th movie review on Vagrant Rant! Thanks for reading, people.

Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Director: Neill Blomkamp (District 9)
Rating: MA15+

Being a South African by birth and an Australian by environment, I have a natural bias towards underdog success stories from the Republic. South African directors making their mark on Hollywood have provided quite a few of these stories lately (seriously, watch Gavin Hood‘s Rendition if you haven’t already) and none have done so more loudly than Neill Blomkamp. In 2009 the relatively unknown talent teamed up with famous producer Peter Jackson to bring the world the truly excellent District 9, a heart-pounding sci-fi flick that was not only a pertinent allegory for apartheid-era South Africa but an entertaining adventure all on its own. The BlomkampJackson team was earmarked as the overwhelming favourite to do a Halo movie, but after that potential project got shot down (for the umpteenth time, I might add), Blomkamp went back to the drawing board and came up with Elysium, another politically charged sci fi romp.

The central division in Elysium is one of social standing and wealth, rather than the straight race allegory of the Blomkamp‘s first feature film. The unique setup is that of a late 21st century Earth suffering from rampant disease, unemployment and overpopulation problems, the citizens of which gaze up at a floating Halo ring- er, I mean circular space station named Elysium, where the rich and powerful live peacefully and somehow disease-free. There Jodie Foster plays a no-nonsense chief of security with a slightly stunted vocal delivery style and an absolutely ruthless streak. She has no qualms whatsoever with shooting down illegal immigrants who attempt to get on board the station for no reason other than to use its magic cure-all machines to help their loved ones.

Our protagonist is Max (Matt Damon, who appears to enjoy hanging around South Africans), an Earth-dweller with a criminal background who is forced into a desperate situation by an industrial accident. Needing a ticket to Elysium for the sake of his own life, he turns to an old contact who grants him the chance to be healed in exchange for undertaking a dangerous assault mission. A strength-boosting exoskeleton is bonded to his body and he sets out to get the job done, but in his way stands a mentally unstable super soldier who is not only a real force to be reckoned with, but the single most memorable movie villain of 2013 so far. Sharlto Copley, who played the mild-mannered protagonist of District 9, is practically unrecognisable here as the gleefully cruel Agent Kruger, a genuinely unpredictable katana-weilding hurricane with an unapologetically thick South African accent that is sure to take viewers back to the days of Lethal Weapon 2‘s Afrikaans villain.

The performances in general are pretty solid, although aside from the three characters I’ve mentioned thus far not many of them get any significant screen time. Which leads me to what is probably Elysium‘s biggest fault: It’s too short for what it is, leaving little room for truly comprehensive world-building. What is there is effective, to be sure, but at under 100 minutes of running time there is no doubting that some pieces of this imaginative puzzle feel rushed or glossed over. The screenplay whizzes past some potentially important plot details and more than a few at least interesting ones, which is a very weird shame. The odd pacing doesn’t hurt the overall film too much, but it does hold it back from being something greater. Here’s hoping for a Director’s Cut Blu-Ray release.

There isn’t actually all that much action in Elysium, another side effect of its brevity. Yet the sequences that are there are enthralling to say the least. Blomkamp saves his most inventive camera techniques and wildest technological dreams for these confrontations and once again he reminds viewers why he would have made a fantastic director of a Halo movie. Action is definitely secondary to story (and metaphor) in the director’s sophomore effort, but it’s pretty damn cool nonetheless.

Elysium may ultimately not be as good as District 9, but lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice and it was honestly a tall order for Neill Blomkamp to top himself there. However, his undoubted talent is still well in evidence and even though it could stand to be a bit meatier, Elysium is a memorable sci-fi outing that comes with a hearty recommendation from me.


Imaginative world, very cool action, Copley dominates
Skims over plenty of details

515/110A M A Z I N G

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