One of the most crucial elements of a science fiction film is the world created by the filmmakers. There’s a delicate balance between intriguing technologies and goofy gadgets that seem to serve no purpose beyond proving that they could come up with something so crazy. One of my biggest complaints against the Star Wars prequel trilogy is that George Lucas seemed to focus far too much time and energy on making every character a different alien species, droid, or some combination of the two. But before this turns into an in-depth analysis of Episodes I-III (which I have no problem doing), let’s turn our attention to the world created by Neill Blomkamp in Elysium.
The most important thing one can do to create a successful sci-fi world is to maintain the human element, whether you go 10,000 years into the future, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, or to the year 2154, the year in which Elysium is set. In a future where the wealthy have moved off Earth’s surface to the titular utopian space station, the everyday struggles of human life are just as real 150 years in the future as they are now. The major folly of the film is that Blomkamp can’t seem to decide which struggle to focus on. The Elysium space station serves as an allegory for both the struggles of immigrants in America, as well as the class struggles that exist between the haves and the have nots of every nationality. While the metaphors too often tread the line between powerful and heavy-handed, overall the parallels made in the film are done quite well. Unfortunately, the lack of focus simply leaves both issues never fully explored, taking away the full punch of Blomkamp’s message.
Despite the confusion of the political messaging, Elysium does still have some rather strong legs as an action flick. Essentially a Macguffin chase for access to a cure-all med-pod (one of the most overused sci-fi plot devices in history), Blomkamp creates several truly stunning visuals and action sequences that find an excellent balance between futuristic weapons and good old fashioned hand-to-hand combat. While the brains of the bad guys is security secretary Jodie Foster, sporting a superb futuristic mystery accent, the muscle and life is brought by Sharlto Copley as a most decidedly evil gun-for-hire. Matt Damon is rather replaceable as the lead hero, but his character’s story holds a great deal of relatability, making it all the more easy to despise Copley’s vile villain. The camerawork does occasionally get a little too stylish for its own good, making the combat a bit muddled, but overall the ambitions of the action pay off more often than falling flat.
After the surprise success and quality of writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, we have been waiting to see what comes next, and Elysium both falls short and meets many of our expectations. Armed with a budget and reputation this time, the greatest praise I have for Blomkamp after watching this film is that he still isn’t pulling any punches. Things may have gotten a little muddled, but the tenacity to make a film with a strong message and no-holds-barred action are as prevalent as when he was making District 9 and miles away from anyone’s radar. Elysium is without a doubt a flawed film, however the rising star of Blomkamp is brighter than ever, and I for one cannot wait to see what he brings us next.
My Rating: 2.5 Stars