Elysium – The UnPopular Opinion

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

When your first feature as a director is nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and is lauded as a landmark film in science fiction, your sophomore effort is either going to be the greatest film of all time or a massive disappointment. Those are unfair stakes for any filmmaker and exactly the quandary Neill Blomkamp found himself in with Elysium. Released almost 4 years to the day after District 9, Elysium was generally liked by critics (holding a 65% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes) despite dividing general audiences. Many applauded the technical merits of the film’s production while finding that the contents of the story were weak compared to the film that came before it. From my perspective, not only is Elysium a worthy companion work to District 9, but it operates as a consistently more balanced and accomplished production on its own.

Elysium shares a lot in common with District 9 in regards to themes and direction. Both movies are set in the near future with dystopian elements while challenging viewers with strong takes on humanity, racism, xenophobia, and class warfare. Presenting these in fantastical storytelling is a staple of science fiction since the oldest days of the genre. Using literal aliens as representative of the struggle for humans to co-exist with those who differ from us is an easy way to digest massively complicated ideas. With Elysium, there are no aliens but we still draw on technology to showcase the huge gulf between the haves and the have-nots. With a budget three times the size of what he had on District 9, Blomkamp takes similar ideas from his first movie and cranks them up a notch.

As a disclaimer, Neill Blomkamp himself has stated that he views Elysium as a miss on his part. So, why am I touting a film that critics were mildly positive about, fans were indifferent to, and even the director is critical of as an UnPopular Opinion? Because as much as I love Blomkamp’s work, I disagree with him about the faults he finds in Elysium. This is a wildly successful film that tackles prescient topics that most major studio blockbusters would never go near with a ten-foot pole. Stars Matt Damon and Jodie Foster have tackled political and societal stories in their careers that often do not reach as wide an audience as Elysium did. When you are able to tell a story like this coupled with some of the best CGI work of the last twenty years, that is an achievement worth recognizing.

I revisited Elysium earlier this year when it was released on a new 4K transfer. It had been over five years since I had seen the film and I recalled liking it. The unique look of Elysium, modeled after the hypothetical Stanford Torus space station, took classic designs from sci-fi history and made them appear tangible. The look of the exo-suit grafted to Max De Costa (Matt Damon) recalled similar-looking constructs from comic books and films that came before it but seeing it in action coupled with a human actor was quite astonishing to see. Elysium thrives on the ample budget it was allotted and the result is a movie (thanks to WETA Digital) that proves what a filmmaker intimately familiar with merging the physical and the technological can achieve. It also made Neill Blomkamp the obvious choice to direct films in the Alien and Robocop franchises, aborted projects which remain the biggest mistakes a studio could have allowed to pass them by.

The biggest improvement that Elysium has over District 9 is the cast. While District 9 was a breakout performance for Sharlto Copley, the heavily improvised nature of the film lent it a verite quality. Elysium is a much more structured and defined film that needed strong actors to carry. While Chappie star Watkin Tudor Jones (aka Ninja) and Eminem were the first choices for Max De Costa, Matt Damon was an inspired choice for the dying character looking for a second chance. Damon, shaved head and all, already proved himself adept at action sequences with the Jason Bourne films, but his familiar face gave Elysium a relatable hero to root for. Jodie Foster, one of the best actresses out there, delivers a rare villainous turn that allows her to chew the scenery. Sharlto Copley, of course, is excellent as Kruger, the enhanced agent hunting Max while turns by Alice Braga, Diego Luna, and William Fichtner round out the cast. Carly Pope, who would later reunite with Blomkamp on Demonic, appears in a brief role alongside Ona Grauer and Michael Shanks.

Produced by Simon Kinberg and Bill Block alongside Blomkamp, Elysium reunited the director with many frequent collaborators including cinematographer Trent Opaloch (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and editor Julian Clarke (Terminator: Dark Fate). Composer Ryan Amon instills the movie with a score that is as gritty as the film itself, a quality I love in this movie. Neill Blomkamp was blunt in saying that this film is not futuristic but rather what is happening now. It is a cautionary tale about the disconnect between the rich and everyone else. The visual and auditory themes throughout this movie echo that sentiment. All combine beautifully as Max quests to reach Elysium but are encapsulated best in the showdown scene featuring Matt Damon fighting some robot killers. While the design of the machines would influence Chappie, this is a trademark sequence that brings together Neill Blomkamp’s prowess with computer effects. It looks real and feels real which highlights the fact that this story is not as far-fetched as it may seem.

While the critics that blasted Elysium claimed it did nothing revolutionary and compared it unfavorably to various dystopian science fiction movies, it is the next evolution of Neill Blomkamp’s skills as a director. From the acting talent across the film to the jaw-dropping action sequences and special effects, the thematically heavy story never feels bogged down by genre conventions. Elysium is a pertinent story wrapped in a blockbuster, telling a tale that feels like the ideal blend of Stanley Kubrick, Michael Bay, and Steven Spielberg. District 9 may have been the critical darling but Elysium is the film that best represents Neill Blomkamp’s filmmaking prowess.

But hey, that’s just my UnPopular Opinion. Tell us your take on Elysium in the comments below.

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Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected] or spell it out in the comments below. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you’d care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.