Running Time: 109 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
Neill Blomkamp’s debut feature, District 9 was a rarity. It was an action packed, science fiction adventure with an important social message behind the special effects and carnage. Made on a modest budget and with Peter Jackson’s (producer) name firmly imprinted in the advertising drive, it appealed to both the critics and with the paying public craving something different amongst a summer of big budget mediocrity. Based on the shocking events of District 6 in Capetown during the apartheid era, District 9 is equally at place as a crowd pleasing effects-fest as it is a cult favourite. With his latest movie Blomkamp has decided on the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ rule. Elysium once again tackles similar issues of segregation, power and humanity and infuses them into a high octane action thriller. This time the director has a bigger budget and the higher profile actor such as Matt Damon and Jodie Foster starring in the feature.
Damon plays Max, an ex-car thief that has served his time and now works in a robot assembly plant in Los Angeles 2154. On earth the remaining residents live in war torn squalor while the wealthy live in a huge space station called Elysium. A government official called Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster) is entrusted to use extreme measures to keep the residents of earth out. With countless attempts to reach Elysium by spaceship, Rhodes calls on the services of several agents to scupper these attempts. The most effective and unsavoury of these agents being Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who has no hesitation in blowing a craft filled with women and children out of the solar system.
When Max is involved in an industrial accident resulting in him being exposed to a near fatal dose of radiation, he is told that he has five days to live. His only chance for a cure is to reach Elysium and take advantage of their medical technology which can fuse bones and eradicate cancer and illness. His friend, Julio (Diego Luna) introduces Max to a black market dealer called Spider (Wagner Moura) who has the ability to transport the desperate men to Elysium but expects a near fatal mission to be completed in payment. When they set their plan into operation, Kruger is sent to exterminate the men and anyone else unfortunate enough to aid them. Kruger infiltrates the mission and Max has to rely on his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) to save him. However Frey has her own reasons to reach the paradise in the sky also.
Elysium is not a subtle film. Its political and social statements are ham fisted and driven home like a sledgehammer to the head. Unlike District 9 which was a political statement disguised as an action film, Elysium feels exactly the opposite. This is a mindless but exciting fantasy film which takes full advantage of Blomkamp’s talent for devising weapons of mass and gross destruction. The action scenes, when they finally arrive, are extremely graphic but exhilarating. They reminded me of Paul Verhoeven’s icky movies of the 1980’s (RoboCop and Total Recall). In one of the film’s best set-pieces, Max, Kruger and a number of henchman battle within a malfunctioning spacecraft. The sequence climaxes in a grenade blowing a hole in one of the character’s faces in glorious close-up. We also get to watch and listen as an ex0-skeleton being bolted onto our hero’s back and limbs. This movie is certainly not for the squeamish.
The performances for the most part are solid with Copley in particular, hamming up his grotesque villain for all that its worth. A sequence where he grooms Frey and her child as his new, temporary family is as creepy as it comes. Damon is his usual dependable self as the reluctant hero and Luna is likeable and amusing as his loyal friend. The only negative in the acting stakes is Foster’s performance as the English, American, South African speaking chief villain. It could quite possibly be her worst performance to date.
The saving grace for Elysium is the fact that it remains highly entertaining and interesting throughout its running time. Blomkamp has injected his usual sparkles of originality and genius that takes a potentially average sci-fi concept into something special. The final third is one heart pumping, chase sequence with eye popping visual effects and eardrum popping sound effects. I’m still contemplating whether this is my action movie of the year?