Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon (The Bourne Trilogy), Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs), Sharlto Copley (District 9)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action
Elysium is the second big budget Sci-Fi/Action offering from director Neill Blomkamp, the man who brought us the unique, surprising and exciting District 9 in 2009. While Blomkamp seems to be embedding himself among the contemporary craftsmen of the genre, Matt Damon, Elysium’s star, is a bit of a stranger to Sci-Fi, while already being a bona fide action icon thanks to his turns as Jason Bourne.
Blomkamp’s District 9 seemed to cause a tidal shift on its release in terms of the thinking around how blockbusters can be made. Blood and guts spurting onto the lens, Cronenberg-style body horror, and genuinely original ideas all packaged in a neat 12A rating blew open the ground on which his peers could tread.
It seems with Elysium, however, that Blomkamp has been hoisted by his own petard. Elysium re-treads the glittering path that District 9 laid step for step, but this might just be its biggest downfall. While District 9 managed to tie all the gruesomeness together with a blockbuster-friendly 12A ribbon, Elysium bursts into the 15 certificate with more and more and more gore, but all the while maybe losing all the fun along the way.
It is true that the movie market does miss big adult-only movies such as Alien and Predator that aren’t afraid to shirk box office numbers for a bit of blood and guts, but Elysium seems to be stuck between wanting the gore of such a movie, but with the sensibilities, morals and plot devices of a run-of-the-mill 12A summer romp. Ultimately, it may be District 9 that comes off the better.
Elysium isn’t helped by how its plot mirrors District 9 to an embarrassing level. Run of the mill working guy (in a strange, sci-fi-twisted world) gets thrown into extraordinary circumstances against his own will involving gruesome body contortion and alienation that can only be resolved by reaching a seemingly unreachable location in the sky. These startling similarities lead one to compare the two films on all levels. It’s true that those who haven’t seen District 9 wouldn’t know or care, but it’s tough to think why one who does wouldn’t recommend a cheaper night in with a DVD of the 2009 film rather than going to the cinema to watch its inferior baby brother.
For one thing, Matt Damon isn’t exactly on charming hero form, and thus not a shade on Sharlto Copley’s turn in District 9 (who returns to steal the show once more as antagonist Kruger in Elysium). It may be a problem with the character itself, but it just might be a problem with Matt Damon, who strolls through the film conveying anguish, pain and determination well, as you would expect, but never encourages you to sympathise in him or root for him.
Furthermore, Jodie Foster produces a diabolically wooden performance as Delacourt, a government official whose job it is to keep delinquents such as Damon away from the idyllic and titular off-Earth habitat, Elysium. Her British accent has been thoroughly re dubbed to attempt to improve the twang she clearly had a problem attaining, but also despite these efforts it remains distractingly bad at best, and in reality pitiful for an actress of her stature. This may be something that threatens to drag British audiences right out of the experience.
District 9 comparisons aside, there are things to be praised about Elysium. Its action is incessant and bludgeoning, well-choreographed and ruthless, seemingly non-stop from about 30 minutes in right up until the ending credits. This is, ultimately, something to be admired when one’s attention is kept throughout the film at almost all times.
The film also clocks in at a lean, healthy 1 hour and 50 minutes, a feat that seems unachievable for most big summer movies at the moment, not to mention most movies in general, which condenses the plot into one meaty bite sized chunk of metal, bone and, at times, gripping excitement.
Summary: Elysium is an imaginative Sci-Fi/Actioner, one to recommend to fans of the genre, the only problem being that for those who have seen its predecessor District 9, it may not seem so imaginative. For those who don’t consider themselves connoisseurs of this realm, they would be well advised to save some money and give the superior District 9 a try on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Rating: 3 out of 5