14 November 2013 | LloydBayer
In the shadow of Blomkamp's District 9
ELYSIUM is a bitter-sweet social commentary that uses brutal allegories to reiterate the alarming rate at which socio-economic and geo-political ties are disintegrating all over the planet. As a follow up to the thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining DISTRICT 9 (2009), South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp's latest offering is yet another visionary parable to mull over. And while the first half is a frightening impression of the future of humanity, the second half feels rushed and diluted. Even so, the film has a lot to offer in terms of visual effects and explosive action.
Although Blomkamp's narrative begins in a dystopian future set in 2154, the story has a modern day setting that uses current events in cleverly hidden metaphors. Consider the following facts: The French Revolution that led to the execution of the monarchy; Derogatory sentiments deriding Android phones as "ghetto" products; Fatalities of illegal immigrants on route to greener pastures; The prospect of space tourism that only the super-rich can afford. Now imagine in the not too distant future, the extremely wealthy live on a pristine space station where state-of-the-art health care prevents people from premature death. The remaining ninety-nine percent of the population are left to suffer on the diseased, polluted and over populated planet we call Earth. Thus begins Blomkamp's setup where the premise is a thematic and often desperate struggle for equality. Amongst Earth's 'ghetto' population, blue-collar worker Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has always dreamt of shortening the ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Now diseased and dying, the only means of rejuvenating his health lies aboard the titular space station. But preventing Max from leaving Earth is Elysium's iron-fisted Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her rogue agent - the terrifying and almost psychotic Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
Where Blomkamp excels is in presenting a bleak scenario that is not only plausible but also discomforting. Considering the real world disparity between man-made utopias and an unfed infant in so called 'third world countries', it becomes all the more unsettling that this story is not entirely make believe. This is precisely what gives ELYSIUM a powerful yet thought provoking backdrop. All else, from gritty action sequences to the CGI built paradise in space benefits from the current going rate in Hollywood. On the other hand, character development leaves much to be desired. Two-time Academy Award winning Foster is either miscast or given very little to work with, but definitely my biggest disappointment in this film. There is simply no punch in what appears to be her first antagonistic role. Foster shares this downside with William Fichtner, another underrated actor whose talents are wasted in what should have been a key role. Thankfully, Damon and Copley make up for any noticeable lapse in the acting department. Together, their characters portray the fickle polarity of the human nature while also providing the film's testosterone fuelled action, including scenes of intense shootouts and sudden blood splatter.
In a year that coughed up quite a few sci-fi films, with some even treading into apocalyptic territory, ELYSIUM stands on firm ground as a film that tackles social issues head-on. And while this film is far from perfect, there are ample reasons why this film is still worth a trip to the cinema.