Its 2154 and the earth as we know it is in shambles. The rich and powerful have left the planet and built a paradise of a space station called Elysium where there is no poverty, no disease — where citizens live in luxury oblivious and uncaring about the plight of those who still live on the planet. Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-convict trying to get his act together by keeping his job at a droid manufacturing company for slave wages and inhumane working conditions. When he is accidentally exposed to a toxic dose of radiation due to a workplace accident, he receives news that he has only five days to live. Left with no choice, he returns to the underground to do a final job for Spider (Wagner Moura), whose business is to smuggle humans to Elysium, in exchange for a one way ticket to the space station and the medical care he needs to survive. With his luck though, the job turns out to be more complicated than he expected and he becomes the subject of a manhunt by the ruthless Defense Secretary Delacroix (Jodie Foster) and her psychotic mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
From the start, there is a certain familiarity to the Earth depicted in this movie. The feel of the movie also has a hint of deja vu. The reason? Director Neil Blomkamp, who helmed the 2009 surprise hit District 9 also directed Elysium. He even cast Sharlto Copley, his breakout star in D9 as a villain this time and I must say that this was a great move to showcase the actor’s versatility. What I liked about District 9 when I first saw it was the rawness and the grittiness of an earth in desolation. While District 9 was shot documentary style, Elysium managed to retain the same conditions and make it work for a mainstream approach.
Matt Damon is a fine actor, and an intelligent one. He adapts to different types of roles like a chameleon and he doesn’t even break a sweat doing it. In Elysium, he manages to pull off the portrayal of a man desperate to do anything to save himself, and show his inner turmoil between doing the right thing and getting what he needed. I think his best scenes were with him and Julio (Diego Luna) although I would have appreciated more dramatics on this part to boost his motivation to get back at the government, and the his last scene with Spider in Elysium. I think what is lacking in the movie are the scenes that solidify Max’s rage to justify his final epiphany. Had these scenes been properly established, I have no doubt that the film could have given Gladiator a run for its money.
While Jodie Foster was supposed to be the main villain, Sharlto Copley kind of stole the show from her with his unintelligible dialogue and general lack of hygiene. It kind of made him seem more menacing somehow. He reminded me of Megatron in the desert especially when he was wearing a tattered cloak in the boonies.
Elysium had a lot going for it. Good action sequences, great CGI and a solid story with an underlying social commentary about politics that mirrors current world scenarios. Human smuggling, poverty, inequality, all in glaring contrast to the elite who vacation in France and St. Tropez, who have access to luxuries and the finest wine.
All in all, Elysium managed to balance out the dramatics with the action, making for one engaging film that is visually and emotionally compelling. As far as Sci Fi goes, it is not as good as District 9 but it held its own as a standalone.