It's tough to not look back to Neil Blomkamp's first effort, 2009's District 9 , when reflecting on Elysium . His freshman effort was parable meets science fiction that did an amazing job of doing what all good science-fiction can do: drawing in from the the realities of now and making it apart of a futuristic narrative. It was engaging, well-acted and directed. It got numerous Academy Award nominations including Best Picture that year. So, to be frank, he had a lot to live up to with his second film. The problem with all of this is that in looking back to the first movie it's a bit unfair to what is, ultimately, a very solid and original piece of science fiction cinema.
The ultra rich have decided to leave Earth behind and inhabit a virtual paradise in space known as Elysium. All sickness, threat of mortality or anything at all, really, has been eliminated due to "insert sci-fi macguffin here". It's a bit non-specific in parts about advances in tech. That's not really important, though. Earth is left for the poors and Blomkamp, immediately, does a fantastic job of establishing the two disparate settings of Elysium and Los Angeles. You're either starving or barely getting by working for those up in Elysium. Enter our hero.
Max (Matt Damon) is a great example of a hero who doesn't have the typical hero tropes about him. He is a typical dude who is just trying to get by working a factory job. He has a past and, frankly, doesn't always make you like him. He makes mistakes. One of them happens to result in a death sentence of five days being placed on him due to intense radiation poisoning in a job-site accident. He has but one choice: Elysium. So he re-enters his old criminal way of life to get up to the fields of paradise.
Blompkamp goes a long way in giving us what could have been rather heavy-handed and preachy in a savvy and rather natural way. He doesn't hit you over the head with the central premise but guides into it and the main narrative. He also interjects a lot of the big plot revelations with lots of explosive actions and really visceral fight scenes. There are some unfortunate plot holes. The sort that nag you long after the movie is done. They are, thankfully, nothing big enough to really deter from enjoyment of the film.
Damon is awesome here. He proves, yet again, why he is one of the better leading men in Hollywood right now. Max is relatable but also a bit of a prick at times. He makes selfish decisions often but, ultimately, does what has to be done. He is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Diego Luna, Alex Braga, and Sharlto Copley.
Remember Sharlto? He played the meager Wikus Van De Mewre in District 9 . His turn as bad-ass mercenary Kruger is goddamn evil. He is assigned the task of tracking down Max and he absolutely steals the show. He is almost too good, really, as he overshadows the film's main antagonist, Secretary Delacort (Jodie Foster). She is a power-hungry head of security who will stop at nothing to have her agenda met. The problem is she's very disconnected from the action down on the ground that it really reduces her to nothing more than a device of the plot really.
There are a lot of the same sort of inventive techo-devices that we saw in District 9 including sweet exo-suits, explosive armament and security discs that need to be seen to be believed. The opposite end of the spectrum aesthetics of Elysium and Los Angeles really hammers home the feel of the movie. Earth sucks. No bones about it. Elysium is the place to be.
So, really the question comes down is it as good or better than District 9 ? No. It's not but it certainly shows the Blomkamp knows how to deliver not only capable science-fiction in a genre than can be quite stagnant but he's also one of the more innovative and exciting director/writers in the business. Elysium doesn't soar quite to the same heights as his first film but gets damn near close at times. Damon and Copley's performances are outstanding and the near future looks god damn terrible to live in thanks to the never intrusive CGI laced throughout.
There's no question about it. Blomkamp has elevated science-fiction cinema again. I can't wait for more.