There seems to be a very divisive line drawn between those who loved and those who hated District 9. After watching the live-action Halo short films he made, I was looking forward to Neil Blomkamp’s first film and I wasn’t disappointed. Then he seemed to disappear for four years. Now he’s back with another bleak science fiction movie, Elysium, where the rich elite of the world live up on the titular space station and everyone else is left on an overcrowded and incredibly poor Earth to toil their lives away in the polluted wastes.
Matt Damon plays Max DeCosta, a former criminal who decided to give up his seedy life after his last stint in prison and works in a factory that builds the robotic police force who patrol the city. While the Earthbound portions of Elysium are set in Los Angeles, don’t expect anything that will remind you of the city. Overpopulation and rampant crime has made L.A. look like the bleak future of one of the favelas where you shoot brown people in Call of Duty. What I did find interesting about the city is that, just as with the use of Chinese in Firefly, the large Mexican population of California blended into common culture and Spanish was freely spoken.
During a typical day at his shitty job, Max attempts to fix a mechanical jam at the behest of his boss, or be fired, and he ends up receiving a lethal dose of radiation. With only five days to live he must find a way to get to Elysium with a forged citizenship so he can use one of their recovery beds that will cure him down to the molecular level. His former criminal colleagues fit him with an exoskeleton that is grafted onto his body to assist him in his weakened state.
Getting to Elysium is the difficult part, as Secretary of Defense Delacourt, played by Jodie Foster, will stop at nothing to keep the dirty scum of Earth off Elysium, even resorting to hiring the mentally unstable Kruger, played by Neil Blomkamp’s first discovery, Sharlto Copley. If District 9 didn’t convince you of Blomkamp’s deft hand with creative technology design, Elysium’s technology will fascinate you. Exoskeletons, personal energy shields, exploding ammunition, robots, none of it is ever truly explained, but it never needs to be. You it and it’s technical successes and flaws in action. For a science fiction movie, this all feels like technology we could develop in the future (except the heal everything beds, but what can you do).
What I found fascinating about Elysium was it’s desire to tell a great story, not give you the typical hero saves the world plot. There are no sides of good and evil, regardless of the moral fibre of the characters on both sides of the fight, everyone is still screwed regardless of who wins. The world is overpopulated and there’s nothing we can do about that without killing people. Society is collapsing and this is just one awful solution in a lose-lose fight. The social commentary here is so multifaceted and deep for a summer blockbuster.
District 9 was great, but Elysium blows it out of the water. It’s one of the best science fiction movies I have seen in years and not only continues the genre’s trend of using the future to deal with modern social issues, but shows that it can be done in a big budget summer blockbuster. Usually August is where studios dump the dregs of the summer, but Elysium changes that. Just as Avengers did for Joss Whedon and Pacific Rim did for Guillermo Del Toro, Elysium proves that Neil Blomkamp is a director that studios should just throw money at to make more amazing films like this.
In Theaters: August 9, 2013
Runtime: 109 min
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Official Site: http://www.itsbetterupthere.com/site/