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Movie Review: ‘Elysium’

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If there’s any film with a huge burden of being a director’s sophomore effort, it’s Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium. Just how do you follow up a film as original, brilliant, and out-of-nowhere as District 9? While District 9 featured a well-mixed blend of sci-fi and political allegory, this time, Blomkamp is setting his sights almost a little too high by tackling current social issues —think the 99% — just to name one. Elysium isn’t quite the narrative triumph that District 9 was, but it still takes to the skies with jaw-dropping effects and a badass attitude.

ElysiumPic1In 2154, Earth’s population is disease-ridden and suffering from overpopulation. While the sick are burdened with pollution and overcrowding, the wealthiest hit the high road and get themselves to the titular utopian space station. There’s no sickness aboard Elysium thanks to medbays that can heal any known illness — from broken bones to cancer. Max (Matt Damon) is a legendary criminal on parole, trying to stay out of trouble, building defense robots for the company Armadyne, owned by John Carlyle (William Fichtner).

When Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at work — and given five days to live — he runs to Spider (Wagner Moura) for help. Spider offers him a chance to get to Elysium if he can download a cerebral upload from Carlyle, which is part of a coup with Elysium’s Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) to take down President Patel (Faran Tahir). The many subplots include Max being assisted by his friend Julio (Diego Luna), and Max running across his first love, Frey (Alice Braga), whom he met as a child in an orphanage and Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley), hot on Max’s tail, as a rogue defense agent taking orders from Delacourt.

ElysiumPic2Agendas run high among the characters in Elysium, and it’s basically every man (or woman) for themselves. Blomkamp keeps the agendas running full speed ahead and the film at first feels like a snowball gathering speed, until it turns into an avalanche of awesome. Only Max is given a real character arc, but even in District 9 there was only one main character — Copley’s Wikus — who just happened to be stuck in extreme circumstances. Copley’s Kruger character is put through his own personal hell here, no doubt having the time of his life getting to play the antagonist this time. He plays Kruger like a schoolyard buddy on steroids, and it’s hilarious.

The biggest accomplishment of Elysium is that it continues Blomkamp’s one-man band style. Oh sure, he may have some huge help from his visual effects team and his actors, but he’s now delivered two of the best sci-fi films back-to-back with only himself as writer/director. Just when we thought summer was over, Elysium kicks things back into high gear, and if you see it on any screen, make sure it’s IMAX. This is a film as big as you’re likely to see this year next to Pacific Rim or Oblivion. While I could go on and on about the film’s themes involving immigration, health care, and class — it’s no coincidence that almost all the inhabitants of Elysium are both white and rich — what really matters is if the film delivers on the wow factor. And boy does it ever.

Photos courtesy TriStar Pictures

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival.
  • lp0213

    I want my 10$ back!
    Glaring liberal popaganda. Someone said somewhere that this movie is about as subtle as a 1930’s Nazi propaganda film.
    Seriously, I hadnt even read any of the reviews before I went to see this movie. I was under the mistaken impression that this was going to be a Science Fiction movie. Not even close. When I pay 10$ for a movie I expect to be entertained not preached to by Hollywood elitests who are so far out of touch with the average American that they dont even come close to representing what we want for this country. How could they? I mean this thing barely even qualifies as a movie, its all poitics from start to end.

  • bliffle

    Jeez, lp0213, I thought Hollyweird was all proper rightwing elitists now after all the John Wayne, Ron Reagan, Shwarzenegger, etc., influence.

    What was the nature of the political message? And what is it that “we want” for this country?

  • gkubrick

    Neill Blomkamp is not a Hollywood elitist