“The hippo wants a friend.”
Having successfully managed to hit a chord with his 2009 debut, “District 9,” expectations were understandably high as director, Neill Blomkamp, began to reveal plans for his next big-budget release. Following closely in the footsteps set by its predecessor, “Elysium” endeavours to once again marry social commentary with action infused sci-fi by introducing a futuristic world in which issues of immigration, health care access, and contemporary class conflict continue to divide and thrive. Now, despite this intriguing premise, it’s really in your best interest to just discard any expectations you might be carrying over from “District 9.” Right now. Visually, the two share a lot of similarities and “Elysium” is a fantastic showcase of what Blomkamp is capable of as a filmmaker. But, if you were hoping for something more thought provoking in nature, you’re going to come out disappointed. This is a dystopian future that’s so loud and impressively flashy it doesn’t even care about its own commentary past the first half hour. “Elysium” is a solid piece of entertainment, but that’s about it.
In the year, 2154, the earth has grown overpopulated and is no longer able to properly sustain its human population. Thus, the wealthy have packed up and evacuated for an advanced space station, known as Elysium. Here, all the comforts of home are provided and the population is given limitless access to health care that goes so far as to even reverse aging. Meanwhile, back on earth, those left behind are made to live in squalor. The story picks up when factory worker, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), is exposed to lethal levels of radiation while on the job. In order to find a cure before his life expectancy of five days runs up, Max turns to LA’s underworld for a one way ticket to Elysium.
“Would you like to speak to a human?”
When the film first begins, there is at least some evidence that Blomkamp was actually aiming at creating something with a little more depth. We’re introduced to a world where food is scarce, jobs are nearly non-existent, and crime rates are at an all time high. Buildings are on the verge of crumbling and streets are filled with people simply trying to survive. Their only form of contact with authority figures comes from a growing team of robots that have been manufactured and sent down to earth specifically to maintain control. The situation is so dire that, when Max is given the ultimatum of entering a high radiation chamber to repair a malfunction or face dismissal, he goes in. The bleak outlook for those on earth make this into an underdog story that’s initially easy to get behind.
From there, though, the plot just becomes muddled. There are a number of sub-plots that seemingly lead nowhere as villains are made into one-dimensional, easily dealt with figures and the film becomes increasingly confused on what exactly it’s trying to say. The most glaring example of this is in the sub-plot involving Jodie Foster’s character. She plays Elysium’s secretary of defense, who is more militaristic and unforgiving of illegal immigrants than its current president. As the president continually tries to place tighter controls on her actions, she decides to orchestrate a coup in order to reboot the system and position herself as commander in chief. Through a series of plot conveniences, Max becomes her target for capture and the film begins to lead us towards what seems to be some sort of showdown between the two. Only, it doesn’t. Her storyline just kinda stops and I’m left here wondering how you could get Jodie Foster and then not use her full potential.
“Looks like his brain is still in tact!”
Thankfully, none of this ends up really mattering all that much. Once the storyline begins to veer off course, the action is also steadily raised. Taking Foster’s place as the main villain is Sharlto Copley (of “District 9” fame) in the role of a vicious and off-kilter South African mercenary who’s been secretly hired by Foster’s character to take Max down. Like Foster, Copley’s character also experiences a distinct lack of development. Except, in his case, it actually plays in his favour. Every scene that involves Copley ends up being so over the top in violence and cartoonish behaviour that even the tenser moments are broken up by incredible fight scenes and dark humour. The action is almost non-stop and the special effects are so well designed that even normally choreographed fist fight prove exciting to watch. But Blomkamp is careful not to stick to the ordinary. He incorporates everything from cyborg mechanics to a cherry blossom filled samurai sword fight to keep things brisk and interesting. We also get to see a a guy’s face get blown clean off only to then be beautifully reconstructed later on thanks to Elysium’s medical technology. There is literally eye candy everywhere.
Coming in with zero expectations and only the vaguest familiarity with Blomkamp’s past work, I found this to be a very enjoyable film. It won’t make you think and really has no business presenting itself as a commentary on anything, but this proved to be one of the most fun movies that I’ve watched all summer. While fans of “District 9” will be forced to wait a little longer for the movie they were hoping for, “Elysium’s” over the top action and spectacular effects make it a film that’s worth seeing at least once.