Elysium: paradise rebooted
Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium marries visionary visuals to a humdrum script. By Lance Harris.
With District 9 in 2009, South African expat Neill Blomkamp established himself as a filmmaker of promise with a highly individual vision and a distinctive voice. But a cack-handed script means Blomkamp’s new film, Elysium, doesn’t quite deliver on the potential of his breakthrough debut.
In many respects, Elysium feels like an Americanised version of District 9 — with a turbocharged budget. Elysium imagines a future where the rich lead idyllic lives on a space station called Elysium, while the poor dwell in disease and deprivation on a shattered Earth. Scratching out a living among the ruins of the planet is Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), an ex-convict who has nurtured a wish to live on Elysium since childhood.
Max has to fast-track his immigration plans and get to one of Elysium’s Med-Pods if he is to survive exposure to a heavy dose of radiation in a workplace accident. It is a decision that sets him in conflict with the Elysian secretary of defence, Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), and her sadistic enforcer Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
To add to the stakes, Max is carrying a program to reboot Elysium’s central computer in his head after a data heist from a senior executive working for Elysium’s defence departments. In the right hands, this piece of code can be used to put a new ruler in place on the space station paradise.
Elysium is as visually impressive as District 9, contrasting the bright corners, manicured suburbia and clean lines of Elysium with the grimy slums, death trap factories and suffocating pollution of Earth. Blomkamp’s attention to throwaway details is one of the best things about the film — his movie world feels truly lived in. He has grown in confidence as an action director, too, with some well composed set pieces.
Though Elysium is a fantastic feat of world-building, it is not as successful in telling a story. Much like District 9, it is an allegory about urban decay, class warfare and immigration. District 9 wasn’t subtle either but it got away with it because of its rude energy. The satirical edge of District 9 has given way here to a grey dourness, with only the occasional flash of humour. The message here is heavy-handed and, worse still, trite.
The plot is riddled with frustrating holes and the motivations of many of the characters simply make no sense when you think about them. For example, one wonders why the rich on Elysium deny the poor of access to their Med-Pods when these miraculous devices seem to provide free health care for all with no cost or consequence.
Matt Damon is in action-hero mode for most of the film, acquitting himself reasonably well. Max is a fairly glum and charmless character, and his transformation from selfish loner to hero of the people isn’t particularly convincing. Jodie Foster plays Jessica Delacourt with a flat accent of indeterminate origin and her mouth in a firm line, but we never really get much of a sense about what it is that drives her.
Watch the Elysium trailer:
Sharlto Copley — Blomkamp’s long-time collaborator and the star of District 9 — livens up the dull character gallery with his unhinged, foul-mouthed mercenary, Kruger. As soon as you see Kruger in a scene, it’s a cue for some inventively colourful Afrikaans cussing (presumably, Copley showing off his talent for improvisation again) or a visceral action sequence. At one point, we’re treated to a scene of Copley terrifying a victim with sotto voce rendition of Jan Pierewiet. Who knew that a psychotic reccie would be alive in 2154 and living in Los Angeles? — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media