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Elysium Film Review and Special Comment
Warning: This review contains spoilers
Neil Blomkamp returns with a fantastic follow-up to 2009's District 9. This film is not a sequel, but it is definitely a spiritual successor since it follows the same formula and features intense action in a politically unjust world.Some have found that to be a problem, but I do not and I will address that in the special comment at the end of this review.
The story takes place in the year 2154 where two distinct classes of people exist, the rich and powerful, who live on a utopian space station called Elysium, and everyone else, who live on a dystopian, overpopulated, and ruined Earth. Illegal immigrants sent to Elysium in order to take advantage of the stations medical supplies that can cure any disease or fix any injury, are ruthlessly killed or deported by Secretary Delacourt, played by Jodie Foster. Ex-con Max, played by Matt Damon, lives in a destroyed Los Angeles and works in a factory after being released from prison countless acts of theft. At work one day, he is seriously injured in an accident and has only five days to live because of severe radiation poisoning. Max's old criminal boss Spider uses his injury to convince Max to take one last job, steal information that can give control of Elysium over to the people of Earth. To do this, Max is fitted with an exoskeleton that gives him increased strength and a way to hack into the information stored inside the mind of a wealthy businessman of Elysium. Once Secretary Delacourt discovers the plot, she dispatches psychotic Elysium deep cover agent Kruger, played by the great Sharlto Copley, to stop him. During Max's journey, he comes across his old flame Frey, played by Alice Braga, who has a sick child that can be cured on Elysium. What follows is an intense and action packed journey to free the world and bridge the gap between the poor and the powerful.
The political themes of this film are very overt just as they were with District 9. Where that was an allegory on the horrors of racism and apartheid, Elysium takes on illegal immigration and universal healthcare. By clearly creating a massive distance between the haves and have nots, Blomkamp gives the audience a reason to support the breaking of laws that are criminally unjust and are purposely used keep others from achieving some form of prosperity. That formula worked very well for District 9 and it works very well again in Elysium. Secretary Delacourt serves as a metaphor for the rich and powerful of today who use that power to keep others from achieving that same level of prosperity. The idea that this kind of oppression doesn't exist because we have a "fair" system is rejected in Elysium much like it's rejected by people of today because their are still constructed obstacles that prevent people from climbing the social ladder.
As for the film itself, Blomkamp does another great job at visually creating his world. His actors do a good as well. Matt Damon plays the hero once again and finds strong footing as Max who simply wants a chance to live. He fights tooth and nail to get that chance and doesn't stop for a second. Alice Braga turns in a good performance as Max's friend Frey, Sharlto Copley gives a scene-stealing performance as the ruthless Kruger, and despite others who say the contrary, I believe that Jodie Foster's performance was just fine. She needed to play someone who was completely unlikable in every way and she did her job well. Her voice, her look, her attitude, and her actions made me despise her. I think people have missed the boat by saying that her performance was bad when in reality her character was supposed to be an awful human being. Like District 9, the action was fantastic in every way. From shootouts, to chases, to fistfights, Elysium delivered.
If you are one of the people who enjoyed District 9, then you'll enjoy Elysium just as much. District 9 is the superior movie, but that does not take away ANYTHING from Elysium at all. I am very much looking forward to Neil Blomkamp's work in the future.
I'd like to take some time to address something that has troubled me about the criticism towards this movie and some of the other films of this summer. I believe that there is overt hypocrisy in film criticism going on right now. In 2009, District 9 was critically acclaimed and even went to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars. This film follows the same winning playbook, but it's criticized for things that were praised in District 9 such as the style, the themes, and even the action. The action criticism annoys me the most because it's been a common criticism this year among critics and fans. You're telling me it was okay for Blomkamp to blow people up and feature graphic violence in District 9, but it's wrong in Elysium. Django Unchained was just as violent and the critics loved it. Another example I can go back to is the criticism for the action in Man of Steel. So you're telling me that critics have no problem praising films that feature mass terrorist attacks showing hundreds and thousands of people being killed in Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, but it's wrong for Superman and Zod to throw each other through a few buildings in Man of Steel and it's wrong for the level of violence depicted in Elysium to occur to the point where the percentage scores for Man of Steel and Elysium are far lower than Iron Man and Star Trek on rottentomatoes. I have a problem with that. If you're not going to criticize and ignore things in some movies, then you shouldn't be complaining about it in others. In addition, if you're going to praise one movie for something, then I don't think it's fair to criticize another movie that does the exact same thing in the same manner that was successful before and is successful again.