Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
Following his critically acclaimed directorial debut feature film "District 9", South African director Neill Blomkamp has a lot to live up to with "Elysium", a thematically similar film to its predecessor but with a larger budget, Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. So how does "Elysium" hold up against the weight of critics' and fans' expectations? The movie starts off as a social commentary on the state of the socioeconomic, health and population as seen in third world countries, but the narrative is soon eclipsed by Blomkamp's desire for violence, leaving the movie to drift off into the territory of action movie cliches.
It is the year 2154, and Earth has been ravaged by disease, pollution and over-population. Here, the analogy "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer" is as literal as it gets, as those who can take off for Elysium, a space station outfitted with Stepford Wives' neighbourhoods and instant cure-all machines while those who can't, suffer in silence or die trying to cross the border illegally.
Matt Damon plays Max Da Costa, an ex-convict who yearns to go to Elysium, and after being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation, is forced to find a way to get there or die in five days. Outfitted with a rudimentary exoskeleton, Max must battle his way to Elysium, but it is not so easy when the Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her sleeper agent C.M. Kruger (Sharlto Copley) are hell-bent on stopping him in order to preserve the elites' way of life.
In "District 9", Blomkamp has explored the relationship between the majority and the minority by juxtaposing survivors of a failed alien invasion penned up in a slum encampment outside Johannesburg with the apartheid and "Elysium" feels like more of the same, except with a new shiny coat of paint. However, unlike "District 9", which manages to stay consistent with its theme of a man forced to confront his identity during extraordinary circumstances, Blomkamp's latest movie is more action-oriented and overly fantastical. The second half is taken up with a series of fights in which Kruger and Max undergo several near-death experiences each. The medical facilities at Elysium are capable of healing almost anything, including a completely blown off face. Although we have seen our fair share of the fantastic, the idea that people on Elysium are in possession of technology so far advanced yet could spare no money or thought to those suffering on Earth is unbelievable. Those machines don't even cost money to use!
Thankfully, Blomkamp's preference for violence and death have not been curbed by his USD 100 million-plus budget, instead, he relishes in it, especially when it comes to blowing people's bodies into bits. The cinematography is nothing we have not seen before in blockbusters, but it falters a little when it comes to the action sequences. Trent Opaloch shies away from showing the real grit of the action, instead opting to spin the camera in every which way to give the impression of fast paced action.
As for the casting, Matt Damon is suitably cast as the determined anti-hero Max Da Costa, whose initial reasons for wanting to go to Elysium are purely for his own gain. Damon exudes a kind of vulnerability and toughness that fans are accustomed to with his turns in the "Bourne" trilogy that works to his advantage here, such as the scene when he asks Spider's surgery team if it's going to hurt when they implant the exoskeleton, they laugh so hard that they almost drop their buzz saws. To his credit, Blomkamp does not try to whitewash the whole film, with "Y tu mamá tambien" actor Diego Luna and Brazilian actress Alice Braga and actor Wagner Moura heading the supporting cast as his best friend Julio, his love interest Frey and the smuggler Spider, respectively.
Undoubtedly, the star of the film is "District 9" star, Sharlto Copley as the uncouth Kruger, a leering and psychotic South African mercenary who commands an arsenal of heavy weapons. You won't root for him, but you will certainly cheer every time he unsheathes his sword or fires his guns because it is rare for a villain to be just a villain, devoid of any sympathetic background. The only flaw in the casting is Jodie Foster, whose delivery sounds as if she has stick up her you-know-where.
Despite the shallow and overly fast paced plot, Blomkamp makes the film work because even though the characters and scenes could have been better developed, the interactions and the action within the scenes are always enjoyable, such as Max and Julio's friendship and Max and Kruger's fire fights. The film's conclusion feels a little obvious, and the symbolism can get a bit heavy-handed, but Blomkamp's energy and sardonic style is still interesting to watch seeing that this is only his second film about the majorities versus the minorities, and hopefully, the last.Cinema Online, 14 August 2013