Review: Elysium


Elysium Still Photo

Science fiction has often been used as a vehicle for political and social commentary throughout film history. Most notably is Fritz Lang's 1927 classic Metropolis, featuring a dystopian society with distinct separation between the wealthy and the working classes. More recently, writer/director Neill Blomkamp employed social allegory in the 2009 awardwinning and thought-provoking futuristic film District 9.

Blomkamp returns to the theme of xenophobia with new movie Elysium, but this round the veil drops even more. It's 2159 and the Anglo wealthy class lives on an utopian man-made space station named Elysium, while the rest of the Earth's teeming population, who mostly speak Spanish, work and live in deplorable conditions to support the inhabitants of Elysium. Matt Damon plays Max, an inhabitant of Earth who's trying to break from his past as a car thief and stay on the straight and narrow, working in an assembly plant that builds the service and law enforcement robots for Elysium.

An industrial accident leaves Max with less than a week to live, and he must find a way to Elysium for a cure -- even if it means returning to his former crime gang, led by software and hardware genius Spider (Wagner Moura). When the high-stakes heist turns into an unexpected opportunity to change the entire course of the human race, Max's friend Julio (Diego Luna) and childhood sweetheart Frey Alice Braga also become entangled in a life-or-death encounter.

Jodie Foster portrays the formidable Delacourt, head of the Elysium defense agency, who stops at nothing to protect the utopian Elysium. Her actions include ordering missile strikes on illegal transports deployed from the Earth's surface. Sharlto Copley, in a dramatic departure from his transformative role as Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9, portrays Kruger, an Elysium government-hired mercenary whose sociopathic nature makes him a lethal implant to keep resistance on Earth in check.

The resemblance of the production design and special effects of Elysium to District 9 is quite evident, and effectively portrays the stark contrast between the pristine space station and the slums of Earth much like the Johannesburg camps inhabited by aliens. The use of artificial mechanized limbs give a realistic crudeness to the human actors reminiscent of Van De Merwe's transformation in District 9.

With few exceptions, the performances are impressive -- Damon is quite believable as the reluctant hero with a heart, and Moura balances out the criminal side with his desire to change the conditions for his fellow inhabitants. Copley's performance is a bit over-the-top, but much of that is driven by the storyline. The most underwhelming performance was by Foster -- I found myself often distracted by her indistinguishable accent delivered with a constantly clenched expression. William Fichtner as industrial tycoon John Carlyle was the most well-balanced villain of the film, with enough disdain for the lower class for viewers to wish his demise.

Overall, Elysium is a bit too derivative to live up to the standards that Blomkamp set for himself with District 9, but it is worth watching for its special effects and timely social allegories. Be forewarned that this film definitely deserves its R rating due to extremely graphic violence. I would only recommend it to adults -- I had to turn away during several scenes.