Review: Elysium / Cert: 15 / Director: Neill Blomkamp / Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp/ Starring: Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, / Release Date: December 26th
140 years from now, the Earth is an overpopulated mess filled with forgotten masses struggling for survival on a daily basis. But it’s not all bad. Hundreds of miles above them spins Elysium, a gargantuan space station filled with lavish gardens and mansions, populated by the rich who live unrestricted and free from disease thanks to technology which can instantly cure any ailment. To those on board, the Earth is nothing but a delightful vista on which to gaze while sipping their champagne, but for those below them, looking up, Elysium is a reminder of how the ‘haves’ turned their backs on the ‘have nots’. Championing the latter is Max (Damon), a prison parolee who is determined to do something better with his life. Unfortunately for him, this very tenacity causes him to fall prey to a work accident, rendering him fatally irradiated with just days to live. Knowing that Elysium is the only way he can save his own life, he reluctantly embarks on a mission to do just that, while helping a few people along the way.
Essentially, director Neill Blomkamp has taken the template set out in District 9 (highlighting class/race differences via science fiction) and expounded upon it, adding more money and bigger stars. The only thing missing, is the true watermark of Blomkamp’s work: his oft-lauded ‘hyper reality’. While District 9 stunned audiences with its indie-style realistic portrayal of alien refugees (layered into a documentary-style format), Elysium is essentially a studio movie.
Admittedly, Blomkamp’s influence saturates the film, from the robots (which are reminiscent of his first short, Tetra Vaal) to the insane weapon tech and political undercurrents. But while fragments of what made the world notice his first feature film are evident, they are lost among the more mundane Hollywood showmanship and come across as little more than self-imitation.
This is by no means a bad film. Matt Damon turns in a strong performance and it's nice to see him play outside of his usual casting type (and the ‘Hulk Suit’ exoskeleton makes for an enduring image). Sharlto Copley is also very watchable (again, playing against type) as the sadistic mercenary Kruger and does his best with what is essentially a two-dimensional role. Also, Blomkamp has layered a plot that would have felt at home as an '80s B-movie with plenty of subtext to elevate it above the bigger budget sci-fi films of late. But in spite of all of this, stood up against his previous work, it just can’t help but fall flat. Oh, and Jodie Foster is abysmal.
As you might expect from a director who is as immersive as Blomkamp, the extra features are rammed with material. Tonnes of pre-production visuals are included within Visions of 2154, showing the evolution of some of the key elements of the film. The Journey to Elysium provides a three-part featurette which covers all the bases from the film's inception through pre-production and the final shoot. The Technology of 2154 goes into even more detail while Collaboration: Crafting the Performances in Elysium does pretty much what you’d expect it to do. All of which give tremendous insight into not just the film making process itself but the mind behind it all. Support of Story: The Visual Effects of Elysium and Engineering Utopia: Creating a Society in the Sky provide even more background if you feel like you haven’t already learned everything. A brief extended scene ‘Kruger Wakes Up’ is also included. A stunning selection of extra features for a just above average movie.
Extras: See above