In the wake of the fiercely original (and instant cult hit) DISTRICT 9, Neill Blomkamp became a marked man. As a new voice in the sci-fi realm he brought the genre back into the contemporary to tussle with prescient human issues. Blomkamp's follow-up ELYSIUM comes with a bigger budget, stars and targets a bigger audience; while the narrative broadens his vivid humanistic voice and striking vision remains.
It's 2154 and the world's wealthy have retreated from an Earth deteriorated into super-sized slums for an orbiting paradise called ELYSIUM. With strict citizenship, the most sophisticated medical technology (that essentially guarantees near immortality) this nigh impenetrable walled space community taunts the burgeoning population below. Max (Matt Damon), former orphan now ex-con, is given a fatal dose of radiation in a workplace accident. As Max looks toward heaven in futile desperation, he sees a saviour in the orbiting haven for the privileged few, ELYSIUM, and will stop at nothing to get to a cure. Standing in his way is Delacourt (Jodie Foster) assigned to quarantine ELYSIUM by any means necessary.
Blomkamp creates a lattice of socio-political issues throughout ELYSIUM that give you the impression that he can't help but have something to 'say' about the here and now with this dystopic view of the future. Overpopulation, increasing disparity (physical and economical) between rich and poor, racially divisive political structures provide the backdrop and texture for the world. The mechanised bureaucracy (with a nod to Total Recall's Johnny Cab), the Great Depression-esque factory work, the perennial chaos — each individual detail is a rich morsel of precognition that is scarily close in proximity. The composition of the grime and inescapable litter of Earth is as profoundly moving as the staggering beauty of the sheer, palatial gated community in the sky. Blomkamp composes such perfection and sanitation as the predominantly white, stratospheric upper class bark orders at their robot slaves. The political allegory is the setting for bone crunching sci-film action where Blomkamp pits robotic metal against bone.
Damon gets to take Max through physical hell throughout ELYSIUM. Beatings, radiation poisoning, having an exoskeleton drilled into His bones and yet that's not nearly as grating as watching him attempt to elevate the frustrating confines of this diamond in the rough, 'hero' archetype. Sharlto Copley's Kruger just relishes in the carnage. As reliance on amoral robotic police has become the norm in this proposed 2154, Kruger represents what feels like a brief moment where humanity looked to technological integration to enhance combat. He is polluted by obsolete machinery, a ronin in the slum landscape. Once Delacourt (Foster) unleashes him upon the unsuspecting populace his bloodlust is joyful. There's an electric volatility about him that just makes him a joy to watch.
The broadness of the core story waters down Blomkamp's scif-fi slum moonshine. In the wake of District 9 ultimately Vickus' incredibly authentic and iconic arc, Max's background (orphan to criminal to ex-con) and motivations (his 'purpose' to change the world/to win his great love) pale in their formulaic construction. While Foster's aryan white baddie is one note and Alice Braga, as Max's great love Frey, just didn't have any chemistry with Damon whatsoever.
ELYSIUM doesn't have the striking originality and defiance of DISTRICT 9 but its prescient social commentary fused with spectacular sci-fi action makes for essential viewing.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Released in Australia 15th August 2013