Elysium (2013) (R)

Elysium is a word that comes from Greek mythology, the place of the afterlife. It's a word that has infiltrated the most famous of Greek philosophers and writers including (but not limited to) Homer himself. Elysium was only for the gods and the mortals who proved themselves worthy. This place of high-esteem and privilege is more commonly known as the Elysian Fields.
Knowing this, the title of Neill Blomkamp's second feature film makes a lot more sense.
"Elysium" is about immigration in the way that "District 9" was about apartheid.
Blomkamp, who also wrote the script for both "District 9" and this movie, seems to place current and controversial topics on film with a backing of hard, violent science fiction—and it works quite well.
Not many directors can claim that their second film had the cast or budget that "Elysium" does...it just goes to show you what a good debut will do for your career.
"District 9" was shocking, original, virtually seamless, and poignant—everything one looks for in a modern science fiction epic. The special effects were unrivaled and the story was fresh and new. Blomkamp filmed "District 9" like a documentary, something that you either loved or hated.
Whatever you thought of the movie, you cannot deny Blomkamp's success—"District 9" got a best picture Oscar nomination and the movie earned Blomkamp a nomination for screenwriting.
Needless to say, expectations were high when traveling into "Elysium".
The first thing that you notice about "Elysium" is the way it looks—crisp and clear. Even in the dirty slums of Earth, the movie still looks fantastic.
It's 2154 in Los Angeles—the people of Earth are riddled with disease and poverty. The rich fled the planet and now live in a little metallic, star-shaped ship called Elysium, i.e. luxury.
Down on Earth, it's hard to make a living and Max (Matt Damon) is thankful to have a job. He works at an assembly line for a major corporation, making robots.
Earth is heavy with decay—buildings are crumbling, sickness is spreading, and crime abounds even with stricter police.
Technology has morphed, most everything has an electronic component. Earth now looks like our planet as seen in "WALL-E" mixed with the equipment that "Avatar" showcased. In essence Blomkamp stays very true to his roots: Earth in "District 9" is almost identical to Earth in "Elysium".
Max is a wounded hero, one with a shady past; but he predictably still has a good heart.
The first part of the movie is a flashback in which we meet young Max and Frey, two young children who grew up together. Max promised Frey that one day they would both travel to Elysium and all their worries would be gone.
We are not told the teenage years of the two children's lives; but we know that they are no longer in touch. Max became a criminal and Frey went on to pursue a nursing degree (something that's admirable but not incredibly unique in Earth's society). Teenage delinquency led to Max being put on probation with a record.
Frey took the high road and Max, the low road...but they'll get to Scotland—oh, forget it!
Now the innocence of youth has faded and Max and Frey's paths will cross again; but in a different lighting this time.
Elysium is a secluded wonder and everyone wants to get there. People try to fake their way into the place of happiness and peace; but every time they try, they are stopped by the equally efficient and frightening Delacourt (Jodie Foster).
This woman is responsible for ensuring the integrity and survival of Elysium—though ethics come as a second thought for her. The protection of Elysium is her addiction, it's why she's so good at her job.
One more character of note—Kruger (though I won't tell you how he's involved, because that would be spoiling). Sharlto Copey plays Kruger, he was the main character in "District 9" so we see that Blomkamp could become one such director that only uses a handful of actors. Copey was innocent and naive in "District 9"—it's quite a change from that movie to this one. He's half sadistic and half completely insane. Wildly evil and without a care, Copey makes Kruger one of the more enjoyable characters in "Elysium".
Though I originally thought that the trailer revealed too much of the movie, "Elysium" was full of surprises. It's an entirely plot driven movie—once the first domino falls, the others will follow suit and then the heads will start to roll.
Blomkamp punctuates his story with sporadic, quick, realistic spurts of intense and bloody violence...they come when you least expect them.
Now, the immigration. It could be because we are in Los Angeles that the majority of the people living there are Latino. This is the first clue. We don't see any other races besides Caucasian, Latino, and the occasional African American actor thrown in to add diversity. While it could be offensive, it's incredibly easy not to get hung up on this point.
The people of Los Angeles want to get to Elysium but they will be "illegal citizens" and deported. There is no sneaking in to this place.
Blomkamp enjoys Christ figures in his movies, and Max is no exception to this. Though he's not a perfect or even good character, there is a ethical firmness to him that nearly every other character lacks.
But if you just want the basics, "Elysium" is hugely entertaining.
The visual effects are ridiculous! CGI has never looked this good.
The beginning is weak, true; but the film picks up major speed and doesn't let go. It makes you forget the sappy-ness of the beginning.
Blomkamp allows his viewer to come just for an action flick—he also allows his movies to be analyzed a little more. It's really a clever ploy that produces a smart and high-speed movie.
Matt Damon is not in top form for this role, it's not too demanding so that could be forgiven. Jodie Foster is good though her accent seems a little fake—her ruthlessness makes up for that.
All-in-all, it's not the acting that makes the movie—it's the momentum, the look, and the brains behind the picture.
Though it's title is heavenly, "Elysium" is not perfect—but it did make a good attempt.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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