Review: Elysium (2013)

Matt Damon stars in the sci-fi spectacular Elysium, Neill Blomkamp's eagerly-awaited follow-up to District 9.

South African Neill Blomkamp gave us an insight into his way of thinking with the critically-acclaimed District 9. It succeeded on all levels: technically, thematically, visually, emotionally. It also brought to the attention his countryman, Sharlto Copley, an actor with an abundance of charisma and energy. Having a bigger budget to play with, Blomkamp’s eagerly-awaited follow-up, Elysium, sees Matt Damon fill the lead role with Copley retained as his arch-nemesis.

Sort of like a companion piece to District 9 with its not-too-subtle subject matter wrapped in a poverty-laden, sci-fi landscape, there’s much here to suggest this could exceed its predecessor’s impact. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the hype.

Set in the year 2154, Earth has become over-populated so the rich take refuge on a purpose-built space station called Elysium. With machines that can cure all ailments such as cancer, they live in an artificial utopia. Head of Security Jessica Delacourt (a slick Jodie Foster) keeps refugees at bay with an iron fist by way of an illegal, mentally-unstable mercenary, Kruger (Copley), and with him she plans a coup d’état to rule Elysium.

Meanwhile, lowly worker Max Da Costa (Damon) only has days to live after a radiation incident on the job, so he embarks on mission to save himself by gaining entry into Elysium. He soon discovers that he can make a bigger impact on society and the future when he discovers Delacourt’s plans.

While the direction is extremely polished, 2013 saw a couple of big-budget, future-set films (Oblivion, After Earth), so you could be forgiven to tire ever so slightly with how bleak the world looks set to become. What this has over the others, however, are some truly superb special effects and set-pieces. The fight scenes between Max and Kruger are inventive to a Matrix-bullet time level, with Blomkamp taking you into the action with such adeptness and confidence that you will no doubt be impressed.

It’s a shame then that while the standard of effects have risen, so has the vomit-inducing liberal views. The class divide story, while prevalent to modern day, is blatantly in-your-face with cheap tricks of slow-motion little rascals playing in rubbish-filled, dusty backdrops across a haunting soundtrack. It’s great having something to say – in fact, films are a good outlet for this – but having it done in such an obvious manner can really be off-putting.

Star players Damon and Foster adequately contribute by being the good and bad of society, but politics aside, it’s Copley who steals the show with a maniacal performance, strengthened by his outlandishly-strong accent. The scene where his face gets blown off by a grenade is a morbid joy to watch.

Elysium may not be as noteworthy as District 9, but this is solid entertainment with some stunning visual effects. Just be prepared to put up with some sentimental cheese in this meaty sci-fi adventure.

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