MATT DAMON JODIE FOSTER SHARLTO COPLEY
E L Y S I U M
It happened to Nicholas Winding Refn, Peter Jackson, and even J. J. Abrams; you deliver a film so defining and impressive that your next film almost always pales in comparison. Neill Blomkamp’s best picture nominated District 9 was the kind of surprise hit out of nowhere that we love to celebrate. The expectations began to mount instantly when he chose his next project, which would involve studio backing and a well known cast, like Oscar winners Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Elysium is a smart film in the same allegorical vein as District 9, but it lacks the emotional connection and creativity Blomkamp was forced to use on a smaller budget.
A lot has changed in the year 2154, the “1%” now live on a floating man-made space station called Elysium. There is no sickness, no crime or poverty; that is reserved for those still on Earth, who are working slaves to the rich and powerful. In charge of Elysium’s national security, Chief Delacourt (Foster) is of a mind to shoot first and asked questions later when unauthorized vessels enter the forbidden airspace. Max (Damon) has grown up in poverty on the dirty streets of Los Angeles. When an injury at work infects him with radiation, he agrees to take on the task of changing the elite system and making the paradise in the sky available to everyone.
I was surprised that Blomkamp, for all his creative genius, followed such predictable gender stereotypes. This year alone, we have already watched Will Smith (and son) help save the world in After Earth, Tom Cruise in Oblivion, Henry Cavel in Man of Steel and so on. Now, Matt Damon is faced with doing the same, and I wonder if it would not have been more creative, interesting, and challenging to have Foster and Damon switch roles. Blomkamp’s script is smart in making Max somewhat selfish to want to live, but in the flashbacks we see his positive influence leading him towards empathy.
Much like District 9, which was based on Blomkamp’s upbringing and exposure to South Africa’s apartheid, Elysium was spawned from a horrifying experience he had in Mexico, when he looked at the safety America provides in comparison. The message is clear, but the ride, while exciting, never seems to dig as deep as it should. We are thrust into a world full of new exciting things that are never explained. Foster’s presence here as an antagonist is dialed too far down; it’s a real waste of her talent. I couldn’t help but draw the obvious comparisons, both visually and metaphorically, with Gladiator. Even the same type of score is used near the end.
Final Thought – Blomkamp is obviously more creative when abiding by the notion ‘less is more’.
By: Dustin Chase
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
Elysium is an exciting film, and engrossing if one does not think too practically. The sets are the most impressive part, which show Earth as I sometimes fear it will actually look in 2054, teeming with miserable people controlled by harsh overlords and droids. Quality of life is nowhere evident. Elysium, the space station for the wealthy, is streamlined and completely automated so that the residents want for nothing, even good health. Both sets by Peter Lando are commendable.
Character development is less successful, although the beginning scenes of Max’s (Matt Damon) childhood and a picture of his current life with all its frustrations are intended to get us acquainted with him and care about him. Similarly, the brief sketches of his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter are not enough to make them important enough for the viewer to feel invested in them. These are certainly fine actors, so I assume the script and directorial factors are responsible. Ironically, the best-drawn character is Kruger (Sharlto Copley from District 9), one of Elysium’s evil henchmen for the government’s dirty work, who made me squirm every time he was in a scene. Jodie Foster as Delacourt, the Secretary of Defense of Elysium, simply does not come off well; she has an odd way of talking, and is just too stiff. Perhaps Neill Blomcamp, the writer/ director, needs more directorial miles under his belt.
When I say that one needs to suspend practicalities, I mean it in terms of the plot. For instance, the primary goal of Max—which is admirable—is to open up tiny Elysium to everyone on earth, but earth has multi-millions of people; how could it possibly be open to everyone? As is typical of this genre, Max is so beat up and stabbed so many times, it stretches credulity that he can still function afterwards. Also typical—and always required—is fist-fighting between the two strongest characters when major weapons are at their disposal.
Despite these drawbacks, I found the film mostly entertaining with good pacing and suspense. I also think Blomcamp has done well what he did with District 9 in commenting on apartheid. In Elysium, he highlights what is now the growing disparity between the wealthy and everyone else, and gives us a peek at the future.