PLOT: In the year 2154, the wealthy have made a new home on a spectacular space-station called Elysium. There, the very, very rich can live a carefree life, in addition to one free of any health concerns, as each home is equipped with technology that can cure any disease, or heal any wound. Those who are left on Earth arenít so lucky. When an ex-con, Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation, and given only five days to live, he dons a metal exoskeleton, and takes on a dangerous mission to hack his brain into one of the colonyís most prominent citizens, allowing him to access their life-saving technology.
REVIEW: ELYSIUM is director Neill Blomkampís long-awaited follow-up to his massively successful sleeper hit DISTRICT 9. Now playing with a rumored $90 million budget (modest for a summer tent-pole), despite the larger scale Blomkampís latest is just as uncompromising and imaginative as his first film, and a defiantly R-rated throwback to the sci-fi blockbusters of my youth, such as ALIENS, ROBOCOP and the original (i.e-good) TOTAL RECALL.
The director of those last two films, Paul Verhoven, seems to be a particular influence on Blomkamp here. While the body-count is modest compared to most modern sci-fi blockbusters, when the violence hits, it hits hard. Blomkamp does not shy away from the occasional ugly, gruesome death or wound, but compared to the ďcleanĒ carnage we usually see in PG-13 movies, not only does the R-rated ELYSIUM not seem excessive, but it seems downright responsible in that the ugliness of violence is never downplayed.
Blomkamp is nothing if not socially responsible, and like DISTRICT 9, ELYSIUM once again focuses on the disenfranchised. Unlike the ghettoized aliens of his last film, here itís humankind thatís forced to live on the fringes. DISTRICT 9 was a thinly disguised exploration of apartheid, while ELYSIUM is heavily influenced by whatís happening at the U.S-Mexican border, with the earth-dwelling inhabitants, doing whatever they can to make the nineteen minute trip to Elysium, in the hopes of a better life.
Despite taking place 140 years into the future, the earth of ELYSIUM isnít that different from how it is now, only more run-down, and desperate, having been ravaged in every way possible, whether economically or environmentally. Mostly taking place in a future Los Angeles (with Mexico City filling in) ELYSIUM is like CITY OF GOD meets TOTAL RECALL.
Matt Damon, sporting a shaved head, plays the everyman hero. Max DeCosta is definitely no Jason Bourne, and like Wikus in DISTRICT 9, heís initially selfish, with his only goal being to survive, and everything else being secondary. This makes Damon a believable, intense hero, with a total absence of action hero posturing, and his numerous exo-suited battles and gunfights having a desperate intensity. Damon makes for an ideal hero, with his physicality suiting the action scenes, but also bringing an emotional charge to the film that we might not have gotten otherwise. Action heroes these days tend to be stoic. Here, Damonís Max is terrified of dying, and just wants to survive.
By contrast, we have Sharlto Copley, the hero of DISTRICT 9, playing the sadistic villain, a mercenary working covertly for the bureaucracy of Elysium (represented by Jodie Fosterís futuristic, and cold-blooded aristocrat), less for financial gain, and more simply for the joy of inflicting pain. Copley is both chilling, and often darkly humorous, and while he unapologetically chews he scenery, it really suits the part and he plays off Damon very well.
The supporting cast is a little more hit and miss. Oddly, the one performance in ELYSIUM I didnít really care for was Jodie Foster, whoís pretty much my favorite working actress. Itís a stylized performance, with her adopting a strange accent that (I think) is supposed to be French (a language she speaks perfectly throughout the film), but compared to the naturalistic Damon thereís something about her performance that feels off. The always good William Fichtner plays another Elysium bureaucrat, and I found that he was actually more convincing than Foster. Fosterís never bad (sheís incapable of being bad) but sheís not at her best here, at least in my opinion, and her performance feels ďweirdĒ although I donít doubt thatís exactly what Blomkamp wanted from her.
Wagner Moura, the star of the ELITE SQUAD series, steals a lot of scenes as Damonís underworld contact Spider, who winds up playing a much bigger part in Damonís mission than expected. Meanwhile, Alice Braga and Diego Luna give the film some much needed heart, with both giving tremendously naturalistic, heart-felt performances.
As for the spectacle, in that area ELYSIUM certainly doesnít disappoint. Just like DISTRICT 9, Blomkampís loaded the film with spectacular, imaginatively captured action set pieces, including a few really good shoot-outs making use of some unconventional, futuristic weaponry. While the editing is a little more chaotic than DISTRICT 9, for the most part itís also easy to discern, and the lack of 3D feels refreshing. I should also single out the awesome score by newcomer Ryan Amon, whose work here suggests that he may be one of the next big composers.
Suffice to say, Neill Blomkamp does not disappoint with ELYSIUM, with it being one of the most unique, and satisfying experiences Iíve had at in theaters all year. Itís badass, thrilling, often darkly fun, and extremely heartfelt. Most importantly, itís also the rare blockbuster that will make you think, and a film I expect many of us will be revisiting over and over again in the years to come.