Elysium is ambitious sci-fi, a rarity in today’s manufactured landscape of summer blockbusters. It’s Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9, which not only stands as one of the greatest directorial debuts, but one of the best science fiction films ever made. He provides us with dystopias that are pessimistic and heaped in tragedy, and this one doesn’t buck the trend: Los Angeles, 2154. The Earth has been destroyed by over-population and limited resources, and the poor live in squalor while the rich have created a haven of their own. It’s called Elysium, and it orbits the Earth with its own environment and wealth existing within its wheel-like structure. Seeing it in the sky appears like a type of moon to us, only this one is filled with hope and ideals of what can come.
Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-con who works off his debt to society, and he hopes to reach Elysium at some point. Everyone does. But his is rooted in the fact that he fell in love with Frey (Alice Braga), whom he promised the world to as a kid. Now, they’re grown up and haven’t seen each other in a long time, until a police officer (which is a robot, as they all are; in fact, Max helps make them, fueling the obvious irony) breaks his arm and he visits the hospital where she works. Her daughter has leukemia, and needs medical attention on Elysium, where they can cure any type of injury or cancer. When Max gets exposed to extreme radiation and is told he has 5 days to live, it becomes his mission to save himself and everyone around him.
Elysium doesn’t go easy on its message; it’s deliberately heavy-handed and preachy. Blomkamp’s first feature was just as heavy-handed, if a bit more sly in its approach; complaints about the film’s message being bloated should be dismissed because we rarely see these in films. Here’s a movie that has remarkable heart, a passion project by a director that’s been given a massive budget and uses his special effects masterfully. The movie’s relentlessly paced and deliberately tightened, with many character developments happening shortly and distinctly. Jodie Foster’s character is woefully underdeveloped, and Sharlto Copley is a raging psychopath that serves as a compelling villain, but those aren’t the film’s strong suits. It’s a gorgeous, narratively faulty feature, but it’s one that feels epic and reaches those heights. It’s immensely enjoyable, thought-provoking action.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)