US | 2013 | Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Logline: In a future where the very wealthy have left the over-crowded, disease-ridden, trash-strewn Earth and inhabit an orbiting space station an ex-con finds himself embroiled in a dangerous mission.
Science fiction wunderkind Neill Blomkamp delivers his much-anticipated follow-up to the blistering extraordinary District 9 (2010), one of the best sf movies of the past twenty years. This is a separate story that could be in the same universe, just much further down the track. Elysium is a socio-political action thriller with more than enough firepower and thuggery.
Matt Damon plays Max, living in the massive ghetto that is Los Angeles, AD2154, working the line in one of the huge robot factories. His childhood sweetheart Frey (Alice Braga) is a nurse at a nearby overrun hospital. Disease and decay is rife, and Frey’s young daughter has terminal leukaemia.
Just like the near future of Blade Runner, the uber-rich have left Earth, and reside in a Stanford Torus design space station built by mega-corporation Armydyne, known as Elyisum (as the word is Greek for a part of the Underworld, it’s an odd name for a paradise, but hey). Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is a high-ranking Government official in charge of keeping the riff-raff out, the illegal immigrants from Earth entering Elyisum. She employs a mercenary known as Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to eliminate the trouble.
Max finds himself on borrowed time, and with the aid of smuggler hacker Spider (Diego Luna), and the reluctant participation of Armadyne CEO Carlyle (William Fichtner, Max is cyber-wired for international sabotage. But Kruger is the gremlin in his side.
With District 9 Blomkamp’s background in visual effects came to the fore, and the results were photo-realistically stunning. He also exhibited a no-holds-barred approach to the violence, keeping it sudden and graphic. He brings the same game to Elysium. The special effects across the board are superb. The legendary conceptual designer Syd Mead, who provided Ridley Scott with Blade Runner (1982) magic, is onboard, as is the inexhaustible Richard Taylor from New Zealand’s amazing Weta Workshop.
What Blomkamp’s screenplay lacks in originality makes up for in terrific pacing, and strong characters; Max by the central role, but it’s the support cast that bring real gravitas (the exception being Jodie Foster whose stilted, grappling with a French accent and unconvincing dialogue is jarring), with Copley’s psychopathic rogue threatening to devour everyone in sight; truly one of the best and nastiest villains of recent years.
Watching Elysium and marvelling at the gritty, futuristic spectacle of it all, not to mention the topical politics, it suddenly dawned on me that Blomkamp is the man who should be directing the cinema adaptations of William Gibson’s cyberpunk Neuromancer, and Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, two of the greatest hard-sf novels ever written. But unfortunately he isn’t. Here's to more Blomkamp hard-sf cinema.