e l y s i u m
21st August 2013
22nd August 2013
District 9 was a rare beast. Along with Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, it gave the sci-fi genre a much needed low budget shot in the arm. Both were debuts, both were rightly lauded by the critics. District 9 was particularly interesting in that it succeeded in convincing us of a world where an alien craft had effectively been quarantined for long enough for its planet bound inhabitants to have been subjected to years of apartheid. Throw into that some Cronenberg-esque body-horror, a convincing but not necessarily likeable lead character and the as then relative unknown Sharito Copley and the film was deservedly a hit.
It was inevitable then that director Neil Blomkamp would be given a big fat wad of money ($100 million against the $30 million spent on District 9) to make his next film. So we have Elysium, again written as well as directed by Blomkamp. In this instance, we fast forward to 2154 where the world has collapsed under the weight of population and the rich have fled to an orbiting (or is it orbiting? I’m not sure if it’s too big. Can something be too big to orbit?) paradise of a space station, the titular Elysium. There, they are served by androids, all illness is cured and everything looks nice and peaceful and green. If you’ve ever played Mass Effect, quite a few moments in this film will look familiar.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, everything has continued to go all to hell and the entire world is one giant towering favela - similar to the actual district 9 only much bigger and with humans as inhabitants. Obviously there is a resistance attempting to send people up to Elysium and there is talk of people buying tickets to get there, though I think it’s safe to say none of these tickets are from the official website. Matt Damon’s character Max is a ex-con, attempting to go straight by working in one of the factories that makes the very police robots that are used to suppress him and his fellow Earth dwellers. A very obvious accident with a radiation machine later and Max’s promotion prospects aren’t looking too hot. All of a sudden, he has nothing to lose. Except a girl - possibly.
Elysium has its own problems too, mainly in the shape of Jodie Foster, very effectively filling what can probably be called the Rumsfeld / Chaney role. When she isn’t shooting down shuttles filled with poverty stricken families, she’s scheming with Big Business to take over Elysium. Big Business in this case comes in the form of BS favourite William Fitchner’s shady CEO John Carlyle. Fitchner is once again given far too little to do.
What we get from Blomkamp this time is much less with much more. Both worlds he creates here are spectacularly well realised. The opening shots of Earth are particularly impressive and the squalor of the below is expertly contrasted with the clinical luxury of above. I’m less than convinced that I’d opt for either of the worlds presented to be honest.
Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the buff ex-con, desperately trying to do the right thing. He emotes vulnerable just as well stuck inside an exoskeleton (bizarrely installed over his dirty t-shirt) as he does without and he manages to make a lot of a pretty well worn role. Sharito Copley makes a return as Foster’s Earth based hatchet man and although he gives the role all he’s got, the character is a shadow of his complex Wikus in District 9. Foster breezes through a turn as the cold, hard Delcourt but really, none of these characters are anywhere near as interesting as Wikus. Wikus was utterly believable. You spent most of District 9 with no idea whether you liked him or not but always felt compelled to watch him and by the end of the film, his transformation was more than just his weird crab arm thing.
In much expanding its scale, Elysium struggles to develop its characters and their destinies seem pre-set at the start of the movie. The concepts are interesting but I’m not convinced I buy them. The Elysium looking down on Earth is too perfect. I don’t buy for a second that a load of rich people would live in any more harmony than a load of poor people. By the same token, I find the ending simplistic to the point of patronising, though I won’t spoil it by discussing it here, you’ll understand when you see it.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the movie and I’m perhaps guilty of raising my expectations on the back of Blomkamp’s hugely impressive debut. Elysium is a decent piece of sci-fi. It’s infinitely more exciting than than the recent Oblivion (which I quite liked) and there is a lot to admire. Blomkamp is definitely an interesting film maker and I really hope that he continues to look at interesting characters rather than just setting up end of level bosses to blow to smithereens.
Check out the trailer here.