Review - Elysium

Elysium (2013), R, 109 minutes - I have been looking forward to Elysium for four years.  No joke, four years. Since before I even knew what Elysium was going to be.  That's a long time and one may even ask how I can put such a specific time frame on such a thing.   Well, I know that it has been four years because I've been anticipating it since the moment I finished watching District 9 for the first time.  Elysium is the follow up to that film from writer/director Neill Blomkamp.

Elysium is an absolutely gorgeous sci-fi tale that takes place in the year 2154.  The Earth is in ruins, the majority of the planet reduced to third world slums.  The wealthy have quarantined themselves high above the planet on a Utopian space station known as Elysium.  The wealth of its inhabitants and the technology it affords has rid them of sickness, disease, or disability.  But the citizens of Elysium have become greedy and unwilling to share these technological wonders with the planet below.

Max (Matt Damon) is a former convict now trying to live life on the straight and narrow.  He works in an assembly plant that produces the robotic police force that upholds the law on planet as a proxy for those on Elysium.  When he is exposed to a high dose of radiation in a plant accident he is given just five days to live.  At that point, he returns to his former associates in the underworld to negotiate a deal to get him to Elysium so that he can be cured.  Spider (Wagner Moura), his former employer and illegal immigration ring leader, will provide Max with citizen-level clearance to Elysium in exchange for Max stealing Elysium security codes from a high ranking Elysium citizen stationed on planet.  This all sounds difficult enough as it is, but then consider they are trying to pull one over on a security obsessed Elysium politician named Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her not-so-legal-black-ops agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) and the stakes are raised even higher.

Alice Braga, Diego Luna, and William Fichtner add some recognizable faces to the cast.  Fichtner is one of those actors that just seems to pup up in everything and always provides a suspenseful performance.  This time around his character has a limited but important role in the story: John Carlyle, manager of the production plant that Max works in.  He's an Elysium citizen who feels that he is above the scum of the Earth that work in his plant, and is only there to ensure the viability of his company.  Foster is terrifying in her willingness to end human life, but she does her job and does it well.  Damon and Copley are the ones that really carry the movie though.  Max's character arc shifts from initially wanting to reach Elysium to save his own hide to genuinely wanting to help others and Kruger's turn to a power hungry vigilante is creepy.

With Elysium, Neill Blomkamp has vaulted into the upper echelon of directors for me.  I'll gladly pay to see anything that he's involved with.  It helps that I love the sci-fi genre, but he has now created two beautifully made films, one low budget, one large.  And you cannot tell a difference in quality between either film.  He tells stories with deep socio-political plot lines that really get you thinking, but he does so without coming across as preachy.  Elysium checked in at number three on my Most Anticipated Films of 2013 list (without even having had a trailer at the time), and it easily lived up to my expectations.  I now find myself feeling the same way I did four years ago when I left the theater after District 9.  I can't wait to see what Neill Blomkamp does next.


- It may be a small touch, but I really liked the fact that the exo-skeleton that was grafted onto Max was actually needed (to counteract his body's weakness after the radiation exposure) as opposed to just being there to be badass.

- With District 9 Blomkamp proved that he could make a awesome sci-fi flick on a small budget.  This time around he got a larger budget and bigger names and was able to do more of the same.  Will we ever get a chance to see his vision of a live action Halo film???

- It was fun to see Sharlto Copley featured as a villain in Blomkamp's second film.  Copley was a friend of Blomkamp's and starred in District 9 after having been in Blomkamp's short film 'Alive in Joberg' (which District 9 was adapted from).  He had not been an actor prior to that.

- Elysium's President Patel was played by Faran Tahir, who may be familiar to anyone who has seen Iron Man.


My review of District 9 pre-dates this blog so I'm re-posting it here since I referenced the film multiple times in the review above.  It was originally posted on a short-lived movie discussion page on facebook that I worked on with a couple of friends.  It has not been edited from its original posting.

District 9 (2009), R, 112 minutes - Since I was not able to see District 9 before leaving for vacation I made it a priority to go see it today on my last day off before returning to work. I was a bit worried that that may not happen as it turned out to be quite a chore getting back to Roanoke from Albany. The best thing about being on vacation on Brant Lake since last Thursday is that I was removed from pretty much everything movie related. I was able to avoid any and all reviews/spoilers beyond the straight forward ‘it’s a must see’ (I haven’t even read Billy’s or Steve’s reviews yet). So while it ended up being 5 days later than I had originally hoped, I finally saw District 9. Not only was I completely satisfied based upon what little I had heard, I was thoroughly impressed. District 9 is easily (in my mind) the best overall film of 2009 to this point.

Neill Blomkamp pieces together what is easily the most original Sci-Fi/Action film in quite some time. He used relative unknowns (i.e. Sharlto Copley – the main character Wilkus Van De Merwe – had only previously appeared in the 2005 short film ‘Alive in Joburg’ which was the basis for District 9 and can be seen below) to piece together a documentary style story in which an alien race – referred to as Prawns - had come to Earth (Johannesburg, South Africa) twenty years ago. A piece broke off of their ship and disappeared, thought to have crash landed somewhere in Johannesburg, leaving the Prawn mother ship dormant. Humans cut their way into the mother ship, discovered the Prawns – many malnourished and dying – and set up a quarantined zone in Johannesburg with the intent to help treat the Prawns medically. Over time, the Prawns took over the area (referred to as District 9) and greater fencing and military security was placed on site, turning District 9 into a ghetto/concentration camp. The meat of the film takes place as the Humans attempt to evict the Prawns from District 9 in order to relocate them to a shiny new District 10 located further away from the human population.

Before this afternoon I felt that Star Trek had been the movie of the summer for 2009. But District 9 takes some of the same pieces that Star Trek did (good action, big time summer time explosions) and added an excellent story line that isn't just emotional and action packed, but also a hefty dose of political commentary – which it does without coming across as preachy (at that’s a difficult thing to do). If you’re a sci-fi fan, this is an absolute must see. And if you’re anyone else, you really should see it for its uniqueness. It’s an alien invasion movie without the invasion. They tried to co-exist with us humans even if it was a less than ideal situation. Oh yeah, I almost forgot – District 9 also has what is quite possibly the most well done mech in any sci-fi film to this point. The scenes with it toward the end are worth the price of admission alone.

Alive in Joberg (2006), NR, 6 minutes - as mentioned above, the short film that led to District 9:


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