There is no doubt about the majestic vision and scope that South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp holds for his illuminating sci-fi spectacles that skillfully hint at innovation and introspection. More important, writer-director Blomkamp’s hypnotic landscape narratives provide social commentary depth that is handily thought-provoking and profound. Naturally, Blomkamp proved this very same sentiment when he delivered the South Africa-set ‘District 9′, a radiant and rousing Science Fiction gem that captured the imaginative and spirited escapism of its pageantry while exposing the cautionary apartheid convictions in the process.
In the futuristic socialist saga ‘Elysium’, the audience pretty much are drawn to the similar Blomkamp blueprint — an elaborate and exquisite sci-fi entertainment drenched in visual wonderment with a meditative message about social inequality. In this case, ‘Elysium’ pinches its filming fingers in the oppressive realm of social class warfare. Basically, it is the simple matter of the haves versus the have nots or the privileged and the pained. Obviously, it is not such a thrill to be considered a ‘commoner’ within the confines of this eye-popping, summertime virtuous vehicle.
Although well- meaning in its bid to construct a consciousness concerning a space colony where the mighty can separate from the meek on a ravaged Earth, ‘Elysium’ does not quite measure up to Blomkamp’s ambitious signature sci-fi epic in the aforementioned ‘District 9′. Still, ‘Elysium’ is a salient and decorative drama that dares to address contemporary issues that plague our society in today’s world. From immigration to elusive health care/medical consideration, Blomkamp favorably mixes in an angst-ridden after-thought on the fragile state of humanity while sweeping movie-goers away with a scenic utopian space-aged getaway in the sky (not to mention an impoverished world as a reminder of harsh realities that persist).
The year is 2154. We are introduced to Los Angeles-based factory laborer and former criminal Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), a balding and buff individual whose recent exposure to deadly radiation at his worksite renders him vulnerable. The problem is that Max is stuck on the deteriorating and over-populated Earth and has to survive amongst the desperate and disillusioned masses on the polluted planet. The only solution that Max sees fit to address his dire circumstances is to figure out how to arrive at the luxurious space station known as Elysium, where the near one percent of the wealthiest citizens migrated to escape the ruination of their home planet. There, Max can receive the specialised attention needed to cure his critical condition as death is right around the corner. Evidently, the advanced medical science aboard Elysium is incredibly effective and guarantees instant recovery.
Max must reply on his riff raffish buddy Spider (Wagner Moura) to transport him to the treasured walls of the high-tech space station. There is a stipulation for Spider accommodating Max on his pilgrimage to Elysium. The catch is that Max must somehow link to the brilliant brain of a well-to-do industrialist (William Fichtner) and ensure that the informational contents are stored sufficiently so that the opportunistic Spider can profit from this dubious deed.
However, getting close to the in-demand industrialist may prove to be a difficult task as he is closely watched by the space station’s deceptive and detached Secretary of Defense Delacourt (two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster in a throwaway role) whose personal agenda is to claim the valued brainy info for her own usage to control the space base. Predictably, Max and Delacourt knock heads as both need the vital statistics for their wayward benefits. Once the ‘brain matter’ is obtained by Max it is not long before he is chased down by the determined Kruger (Sharito Copley).
As ‘Elysium’ runs its course, the movie gets bogged down with the awkward sentiments of a routine chase thriller as Damon’s Max turns into the obligatory hunted source ducking and dodging the persistent Kruger and ice queen Delecourt while trying to protect his exposed hide and that of Frey (Alice Braga), his close female friend’s endangered daughter, Matilda (Emma Tremblay), in the process.
Blomkamp does have some viable input about contrasting the worlds of labor and luxury but slightly misses the mark in completely conveying the detrimental and desirable effects of both worlds. Sure, there are the movie’s convincing set pieces that show a drab-looking Earth and then a spruced-up space station as well. However, we are never really invested in both varying worlds as much as we would like to be as Blomkamp never seems to concentrate enough on ‘Elysium’s recession-era composition. It is a mere tease that we experience the minimal devastation of LA and the surrounding world as well as the limited opulence of the space station’s boundaries.
Blomkamp and his handlers do resourcefully incorporate top-notch special effects and art direction that gives ‘Elysium’ its magnificent colour-coated sheen and robust imagery. As for the performances led by lead protagonist Damon, everybody competently goes through the motions but take a backseat to the film’s radiance that overshadows the run-of-the-mill characterisations. Still, ‘Elysium’ is nevertheless absorbing in its messaging about the human condition set against a progressive sci-fi backdrop of adventure and intrigue.
1 hr. 37 mins.
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura and William Fichtner
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Drama
Critic’s rating: ** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2013