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Movie Review: Elysium

  • Actor(s): Damon, Foster, Copley
  • Title: Elysium
  • Director: Neill Blomkamp
  • Type: Sci-Fi
  • Script/Writing:
  • Acting:
  • Production:
  • Soundtrack:
  • Casting:
  • Originality:

Back in 2009 acclaimed writer and Director Neill Blomkamp reintroduced audiences around the world to the “real” definition of a sci-fi film. His critically acclaimed and emotionally compelling District 9 ultimately set the standard for what a film of the genre could be. He illustrated that if a director tackled the challenge of proper character development and embedded it in a story that captivated the audience, people would again respect the genre. District 9 was not by any standard the greatest sci-fi of all time. However, it was one of the only sci-fi films in the last ten years to be taken seriously enough to receive a nomination for the academy’s most prestigious “best picture” award. With that said, Blomkamp gave himself one monstrous hill to climb diving back into the genre with his new film Elysium. Although Blomkamp gives a compelling story, with solid performances across the board, it’s the poor pacing that settles this film into the all but fatal, “average sci-fi” category.

The story takes place in 2154 on a barren and desolate Earth. Due to poverty and extreme pollution the Earth is deemed uninhabitable and beneath the standards of the wealthy. In order to escape this wasteland, the wealthy and elite construct their own “habitat” that orbits Earth. This habitat is called Elysium. Conversely, Earth is now a melting pot of death, crime, drugs, and pollution. Jobs are scarce, and the only way to make a living is factory work. This is where the main character Max, played by the talented Matt Damon (Bourne Identity), comes in. Max’s ultimate goal has always been to reach Elysium. When an accident in his factory leaves Max with only days to live, Max must do whatever is necessary to reach Elysium and save his life.

Blomkamp’s choice of Matt Damon was feared by some going into the film, due to Damon’s inexperience in the genre. Though Damon has shown his acting range throughout his career, sci-fi fans were curious to see how he approached Elysium. Damon’s portrayal of Max, however, was utterly flawless. Not only will audiences truly feel for his character, but they will easily root for him by the films climax. Damon has a subtle way about him that is just satisfyingly believable. His calm and steadfast performance seemed to resonate with the supporting cast as well.

Alice Braga, Wagner Moura, and Blomkamp’s go-to man Sharlto Copley were absolutely brilliant on screen. Braga (I Am Legend, Repo Men) has now essentially settled herself in as the sci-fi goddess. Not only is she easy on the eyes but her performances feel controlled and effortless. This was no different in Elysium. She commanded her character of “Frey” (Max’s friend and longtime crush) with undeniable poise and savvy. Wagner Moura was outstanding as well. Moura plays “Spider”, a local crime boss and revolutionary in Los Angeles.

Moura (more known for his Brazilian acting) is completely captivating on screen. His character has a depth about him that was hard to deny. His balance of passion and borderline insanity truly leaves the viewers on the edge of their seats. He is edgy and unpredictable and that anxiety he brings to the audience is masterful. Finally, we have the brilliant Sharlto Copley (District 9). Copley plays Kruger, an agency mercenary. Kruger is vicious, brutal, and a loose cannon. However, Copley brings something more to the character. He brings and somehow nails a comedic tone. It made him a joy and a pain to see on screen. Audiences will want to see his character on screen all the time, but will feel anxiety knowing that his presence means trouble for Max. This relationship on screen is undeniable and illustrates exactly why Copley is one of the best in the business and vital for the success of this film.

While the performances were outstanding across the board (except for the hollow and overacted performance of Jodie Foster, “Delacourt”), the pacing of the film in its final hour was just a little rushed. The film started very slowly with the introduction of the two worlds and the back-story of Max. This slow pace was brilliant as it set up proper character development. However, after Max runs into trouble, things speed up in a most distasteful way. Though there weren’t too many plot holes to write home about, the film started to glaze over details that it spent only a few moments, in the first half, covering. This made the second half of the film feel weightless. It felt like Blomkamp turned to the typical sci-fi thrills instead of relying on his masterful storytelling. Yes, some of those thrills were absolutely stunning. And yes the visual effects and CGI were among the best in the business. However, the thrills can only bear so much of the weight when the story feels rushed. Things come around full circle but just not in the proper timing. This is what ultimately drags the film down.

Fortunately, the one saving grace for the film is its emotional musical score by Ryan Amon. Elysium is Amon’s first feature film score and without a doubt, he nailed his debut on the big screen. His score has so much weight and depth to it that even when the pacing goes kaput, it brings the audience back to solid ground again. It will be interesting to see where Elysium takes Amon. Audiences should stay on the lookout for him.

All in all, compared to Blomkamp’s first sci-fi adventure, Elysium falls short in terms of pacing and originality. However, comparing it to an Oscar nominated film like District 9 just isn’t fair. On its own two feet Elysium is well acted, emotionally grounded, full of flare, and most of all a fun ride. Even with its failures in pacing, sci-fi junkies will find themselves lost in Blomkamp’s world. This is not going to be an award-winning picture by any standard. However, it was a great watch and still a breath of fresh air to the sci-fi genre. Blomkamp knows what it takes to make his films compelling and yet full of flare and sci-fi action. Fans of his work should definitely give this film a look. They will not be disappointed.

-Review by Josh Thomas

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