Directed by: Neill Blomkamp || Produced by: Neill Blomkamp, Bill Block, Simon Kinberg
Written by: Neill Blomkamp || Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner
Music by: Ryan Amon || Cinematography by: Trent Opaloch || Editing by: Julian Clarke, Lee Smith || Country: United States || Language: English, Spanish
Running Time: 109 minutes
Elysium has been on my radar for a long time for one reason and one reason only: It is written, directed, and co-produced by Canadian-South African filmmaker, Neill Blomkamp, director and co-writer of the 2009 independent sci-fi sociopolitical drama, District 9. District 9 (D9) became my favorite movie of that year and cemented itself with both critics and the masses as one of the best science-fiction films of the past decade. Its aggressive, intense action set-pieces, combined with its powerful, original screenplay courtesy of Blomkamp and wife Terri Tatchell, made the apartheid-analysis the surprise hit of the year, and overshadowed all other nominees at the 2010 Academy Awards (save for Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker ).
Whether Blomkamp will ever make a movie equal to or greater than D9 remains to be seen (Chappie  was a bust). With that said, does that mean Blomkamp’s sophomore effort is a poor film? Not at all! Elysium, preachy message and all, is a slick, well-designed, and intense sci-fi action romp that will make you fist-pump with every slow-motion rifle burst, robotic exoskeleton punch, and exploding human body.
Where Elysium comes up short in comparison to D9 is its hamfisted social commentary and simplistic characters. No matter how you look at it, Matt Damon’s cybernetic socialist-revolutionary can’t compare to Sharlto Copley’s experience in the slums of an alien concentration camp. Nor can Elysium’s simplistic analysis of social stratification rival D9‘s damning, yet complex criticism of government apartheid and private military contractors.
As far as action sequences are concerned, Blomkamp experiments with a variety of cinematographic techniques, slow-motion photography, and grounded special FX to create a colorful diaspora of cinematic violence. It’s an extension and evolution of D9‘s grimy sci-fi action, a hybridization of dieselpunk, cyberpunk, and biopunk aesthetics in the vein of Alien (1979) and Star Wars (1977). However, the real strength of Blomkamp’s latest action foray is its well rounded mix of gun-violence and abrasive close-quarters-combat.
The contrasting visual styles of Elysium are impressive, adding visual variety to the film’s settings and tone. The titular space station’s sterile atmosphere and clean, high-tech interior contrast with a ruined, dystopian earth-landscape covered with a futuristic cultural melding pot of slums.
Damon’s no slouch as the small-time car-thief turned blue-collar factory worker who transforms into earth’s savior. Alice Braga, though she has little to do as the unofficial female lead, plays her part well as the emotional motivation behind Damon’s character. Foster is the least impressive of the bunch, as she basically functions as a mustache-twirling villain.
Copley is a surprise hit as the primary antagonist of the movie. His character, as well as those of his henchmen, offer plentiful dark comic relief. Copley’s taunts of Damon in their final confrontation and evil henchmen tossing grenades at politicians while flipping them the bird are great examples of the film’s sardonic personality. Top to bottom, Elysium’s plot may feel by-the-numbers given its political overtones, but one thing Blomkamp has not forgotten is how to make a stylized film with personality and intelligence. Elysium may be big and flashy, but it’s not dumb.
Aside from Braga and Foster’s throwaway roles, Elysium’s only problem is the derivative nature of its theme. Elysium’s class-warfare story is hardly original and comes across rather preachy, and is nowhere as nuanced as D9 or even Snowpiercer (2013); but then again, it’s hardly an Avatar (2009) or Dances with Wolves (1990) type of scenario, nor is it more heavy-handed than The Dark Knight Rises (2012), which everyone seemed to love. I’m not sure why so many critics are jumping down this film’s throat when normally they love this sort of lefty shift. Is it because it’s about a white guy saving all the minorities? Actually, it’s probably because this is film is an original intellectual property, has no franchise roots, is an R-rated action film, and isn’t trendy like Marvel films are, which always seem to manage “Fresh” ratings on Rottentomatoes no matter what they do. There, I said it.
In any case, for those of you on the fence or waiting for Blomkamp’s follow-up to the science-fiction success that was District 9, my recommendation is that you see Elysium. It’s well worth your time and money, and it’s far better than most summer action films in general, regardless of political subtext.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Elysium’s visceral, grisly action hits you with sledgehammer force and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. Blomkamp weaves opposite visual styles together to create a seamless whole. Copley’s return as an evil, sardonic villain is the standout performance of the film.
— However… Braga and Foster are poorly used. Elements of the story are simplistic and shallow a la Dark Knight Rises (2012).
? Blomkamp must like seeing humans explode, because there’s a shit-ton of that in both District 9 and Elysium.