director Neill Blomkamp
viewed: 08/10/2013 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
In 2009, Neill Blomkamp sort of came out of nowhere with his South African sci-fi film District 9, ripe with its Apartheid metaphors, mixing action and drama, aliens and modern weaponry via a backdrop of squalor and poverty. Vibrant, lively, and more than anything “just plain different”, District 9 was a breath of fresh air for summer 2009.
Four years later, Blomkamp’s second feature film didn’t come in under the radar. Elysium taps heavily on some similar themes from his earlier film. It’s science fiction set 150 or so years in the future. No aliens this time. The discrepancy is between humans, the rich and the poor. Earth has become a wasteland so the rich now live on an orbiting space station in a life of ease and luxury, not to mention completely free from health problems. Those have all been solved.
Good news. In 150 years, all health problems are solved. For the rich.
Down on Earth, Los Angeles is a slum on the order of Mexico City. Actually, the film was shot around Mexico City so the comparison is definitely there.
When petty criminal turned regular working guy Max (Matt Damon) gets an ugly dose of radiation and is set to die in five days, he takes a crazy gambit for a local criminal kingpin to get himself up to Elysium and perhaps overthrow the government of oppression from above.
Jodie Foster represents the haves who protect themselves from the have-nots. She’s in charge of security, keeping would-be immigrants out. She also employs a rogue agent, played by Sharlto Copley (the director’s friend and star from District 9) as a brutal, ruthless, curious villain. He offers some pepper and spice to the film in which the heroes and establishment baddies are cut from relatively standard cloth.
It’s not that the film is overly pedantic, but it is relatively obvious in its feelings about the dichotomies between the rich and the poor. Blomkamp has more going for his film of future Earth than several other futuristic summer movies of 2013. Oblivion (2013) offered a post-Earth in which basically robots destroyed all humanity (more or less) except for a huge bunch of clones of Tom Cruise. After Earth (2013) was M. Night Shyamalan and Will and Jaden Smith which was a combination that I couldn’t pay for in the theater and still haven’t queued up for DVD. Pacific Rim (2013) offered a not yet fully destroyed Earth by a bunch of monsters from another dimension (not the highest on the likelihood of future concerns). Elysium is far more intent on its social commentary.
My thinking is that the plot has some pretty serious holes in it. I tried not to prod them. But they kind of nagged at me. Something that wants to be taken more seriously such as Blomkamp’s Elysium needs to be able to stand up to even mild scrutiny. Surely it’s the most thoughtful of the big summer post-apocalypse movies of 2013. Doesn’t mean it holds water.
It’s entertaining enough. And I give it kudos for leaning closer to an hour and a half that two or more. There is something in that, I believe.