Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Neill Blomkamp’s third world perspective is still very much intact with his second entry in dystopian sci-fi, the thrilling and impactful Elysium. The perpetual war between the haves and have nots has rarely, if ever, been depicted with this much visual flare coupled with such a feeling of absolute desperation. Amidst all of its slumdog majesty, Elysium also makes a smaller point through its lead character, Max (Matt Damon), showing that self-interest alone will not result in your survival.
In a move that Ayn Rand would probably be proud of, the uber rich move off world to a luxurious space station in the late 22nd century, subsequently abandoning an overpopulated, over-polluted Earth (it still looks pretty from where they’re sitting, though). Max is a legendary car thief (Fast & Furious Seventeen tie-in, perhaps?) trying to stay on the straight and narrow working at a highly dangerous plant facility that manufactures the robots who now police the streets and protect the wealthy. A chance encounter with a childhood friend, Frey (Alice Braga), and the romance he hopes will spring is the only good thing the guy has going. Then he gets a lethal dose of radiation, causing an epic chain of events that will change the course of history.
Best be sure, Matt Damon brings it in this movie, and all of the actor’s best qualities are present: he’s charming, relatable, and proves again why he may be the everyman’s action hero. His reputation as an action star has already been firmly established with the Bourne films, a fact that should help the audience take the leap of faith needed when Max becomes a crude, cyber-Frankenstein equipped with the same tech that the military machines have. The pacing then suddenly shifts from slow, homeworld routine to breakneck space adventure, giving a real sense of urgency that’s driven by Max’s total desperation and his will to live. Max sees his survival as the ultimate middle finger to a world that doesn’t really care if he lives or dies. The revolution recruits and creates him, not the other way around.
The larger struggle against the powers-that-be is personified by the corporate shrewdness of Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her rabid dog, Kruger (Sharlto Copley) - a man who hates the establishment too but tolerates it so long as he’s allowed to run amok within it. Foster is cold, intelligent, cultured, and rebellious even, but her performance also captures the underlining fear of all the residents of Elysium. As for Sharlto Copley as the radicalized agent Kruger, few will even recognize him as the spineless inspector from Blomkamp’s first film District 9. He is a true force of nature here - equipped with an electronic forcefield weapon and wielding a samurai sword, he proves to be virtually unstoppable. You might be rooting for Max, but you’re going to want to pretend to be Kruger when you’re at home later in your backyard.
As for Blomkamp’s vision, his films continue to look like no one else's. The first establishing shots of Elysium show the population and its endless constructs as a form of bacteria sweeping across the planet. But there is still a level of awe and beauty present because of Blomkamp’s extreme attention to detail and his understanding of how certain images impact the viewer. This is set in the not so distant future, but the world of Elysium isn’t suggesting that this is where the human race is going to end up if we keep going down the path of self-destruction; it’s showing us that we’ve already arrived there.
This is a man who used to walk two miles in Johannesburg, South Africa, each month to buy the new issue of Fangoria, after all. Blomkamp has seen similar conditions to those depicted in the film, and his perspective is completely unique in the world of cinema because of it. What’s brilliant about his point of view is that he doesn’t let his world view overwhelm his boundless imagination, resulting in thought-provoking science fiction that’s both hard to look at and absolutely gorgeous to behold at the same time.
4 out of 5