Release Date: August 9th, 2013 (US); August 21st, 2013 (UK)
Genre: Action; Drama; Science-fiction
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga
Acquiring aesthetic influence from director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, and combining that with a story inspired by Total Recall, Elysium takes its time as it slowly burns through its first hour — asking many of the same questions as those proposed in District 9 and Total Recall. However, with 40 minutes remaining and a more prominent role for Sharlto Copley developed, Elysium explodes into life with sci-fi action as entertaining and engrossing as much that has gone before it this summer.
Much like Total Recall, Elysium is set in a future where the wealthy live idyllic lives and the poor are left to fend for themselves. This time around, an enormous manufactured space station called Elysium plays host to those whose class and money outbid most others’. The Earth has been over-worked and over-populated, housing the vast majority of humanity — most of whom are poor and without essentials such as health care and shelter.
Elysium was hyped up fairly extensively throughout a summer dominated by science-fiction. Perhaps this was down to a combination of being directed by sci-fi extraordinaire Neill Blomkamp and boasting a juicy plot set to ignite many a discussion amongst viewers. For the most part, Elysium does hold up its end of the bargain and meets the high standards set beforehand. The film is not too dissimilar visually to Blomkamp’s District 9, which portrayed some of the Earth as extremely run-down and over-saturated by people, rubbish and rot. This obvious likeness is not a problem as the film certainly needs and benefits from the landscape it is primarily set in, with the contrast between Earth and the fresh, artificial Elysium comprehensively mirroring the gap between the rich and the poor. The film begins by scoping across the worn city of Los Angeles, projecting visuals which would not be out of place in a post-nuclear disaster. The camera then pans up towards the gleaming Elysium, signalling the overall objective of the film — to explore the results of mass-immigration and its impact on class divide.
Blomkamp appears to take significant inspiration from Total Recall, as Elysium incorporates two geographically and internally separate habitats into its story: a wealthy and a poor one. The film also sparks up many of the same questions asked in District 9, and the combination of these two somewhat recycled elements act as a small constraint against the piece. For example, just as District 9 is an analogy of oppression against ‘outsiders’ (the prawns), so too does Elysium focus on a lack of acceptance of ‘outsiders’ (the poor). Another key element which makes its way into Elysium much like it did District 9 is the lack of adequate health care offered to those who are in need of it. Installing similar themes to the extent Blomkamp does here runs the risk of being too referential in nature, however Elysium manages to overcome such an obstacle by way of an interesting (albeit slightly predictable) narrative and, in particular, a storming second-half.
After an hour comprised of plot points designed to set-up the main act of the film, Elysium bursts into life with the more prominent, speech-driven arrival of Sharlto Copley’s character, Kruger. A mercenary who works in an unofficial capacity for the Elysium Secretary of Defence, Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), Kruger’s primary objective is to prevent any immigrants from escaping Earth and establishing themselves on Elysium. Copley — who also starred in District 9 — is tremendously vicious in the role, giving off the impression that his character is so unhinged he could snap at any given moment. Interestingly, Kruger’s dishevelled, vile look indicates that he has spent his life living off of scraps along with the rest of the poor on Earth, which adds another dimension to his relationship with the pristine Delacourt — it is likely that he does not want to see any form of success or joy amongst his peers on Earth and in order to ensure misery, he must ensure nobody can migrate to Elysium.
Matt Damon stars as an ex-convict named Max Da Costa who is trying to turn his life around and who finds himself, through a variety of circumstances, as the head of a mini-rebellion against the corporate Elyisians. There is a wonderful scene between Damon’s Da Costa and a robot near the beginning of the film (robots control the Earth as most upper-class humans deem the landscape unworthy and too polluted to exist on themselves). Da Costa becomes increasingly frustrated by the machine’s lack of care or understanding in regards to what he is saying to it. This essentially sums up the whole film, as Da Costa represents the poor and their struggle to be noticed and aided, against a discriminatory, emotionally unavailable upper-class. Both Damon and Foster are thoroughly convincing in their respective roles, however Copley’s effortless attempts at vulgarity ensure he is loathed universally, therefore he demands most of the plaudits. The final 40 minutes of Elysium are well worth the ticket price, as the drama evolves into hard-hitting action whilst maintaining an enveloping aura, much of which is to do with the uncertainty surrounding Kruger.
Even though the early stages of Elysium are slow-burning and a little nonsensical in parts, the film eventually hits full throttle as it meshes together awesome visuals, good performances and exhilarating action. The Total Recall–District 9 hybrid poses a number of recycled-yet-relevant questions to the audience, assuring its intentions are in the correct place.