Review: ELYSIUM (2013) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 26 August 2013

Review: ELYSIUM (2013)

Not as great as DISTRICT 9, but ELYSIUM remains an entertaining, if shallow mix of sociopolitical commentary and imaginative sci-fi genre.

Back in 2009, the then-unknown, South African-born filmmaker Neill Blomkamp impressed the critics and viewers worldwide with his innovative sci-fi movie debut DISTRICT 9, which was widely regarded as one of the most visionary sci-fi pictures ever made in the recent memory. Four years later, he is now granted with a bigger budget ($115 million vs. $30 million for DISTRICT 9) and a major Hollywood superstar (Matt Damon) for ELYSIUM. The good news is, his trademark mix of sociopolitical commentary and imaginative sci-fi genre is all here. Except this time, ELYSIUM fails to explore the themes beyond its surface value which happens to be more interested on delivering a typical Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster with vague ideas than a coherent whole.


Set in the year of 2154, Earth has contaminated with diseases and also becomes vastly overpopulated. The division between social classes has divided into two groups -- the rich ones will enjoy luxurious life and even have access to state-of-the-art medical technology on a space station above the planet called Elysium -- while the poor ones live on the planet's decayed surface filled with poverty, crime and disease. Among them  is 36-year-old Max (Matt Damon) who lives in a Los Angeles slums and works on an assembly line at Armadyne, a top tech company dealing with robots. One day, he accidentally exposed himself to deadly radiation during a routine job gone bad. With only five days to live, his only chance for survival is to get up to Elysium for quick medical recovery. But he needs a ticket, so he hooks up with his former employer Spider (Wagner Moura) and agrees to do one last job at which he is required to steal valuable data from Armadyne boss John Carlyle (William Fichtner). Equipped with a high-tech body armor that makes him stronger, Max goes on a mission that later becomes more dangerous than he originally imagined.

Similar to DISTRICT 9, ELYSIUM is a cinematic triumph of seamless special effects and fantastic production values. The action are top-notch, which mixes shockingly graphic violence and stylish slow-motion aided by Trent Opaloch's stunning digital cinematography. Ryan Amon's spectacular music score almost echoes the epic grandeur of Hans Zimmer's work, while Blomkamp's direction is energetic. The introduction of Elysium is definitely a must-see to behold.

Acting-wise, Matt Damon is engaging enough as a regular guy who becomes an unlikely action hero. Despite only appearing in a few scenes, Alice Braga gives a soulful performance as Frey. Jodie Foster, in the meantime, is equally credible as the cold and sinister Secretary Delacourt. Then there's the Brazilian-born Wagner Moura, who excels in a robust performance as the revolutionary Spider. But of all the actors here, it was Sharlto Copley steals the limelight as Delacourt's psychotic field agent Kruger. His role is simply both terrifying and darkly humorous that really makes him one of the most exciting villains ever seen in the recent memory.

Two brutal combat scenes -- one that set on an open land, and another one at the climactic finale; a particularly graphic scene where one of the characters get his face blown off by a grenade; and a poignant scene involving the little Matilda (Emma Tremblay) telling Max a moral story about a meerkat and a hippo.

As mentioned earlier, all the sociopolitical commentaries (class divide between rich and poor, etc.) presented here are skimpy at best. It's a pity that Blomkamp doesn't explore much about the planet of Elysium, which is only given a few glimpses here and there. Another problem here is Blomkamp's penchant of shooting some of his action scenes in tight closeups and shaky camerawork, which I must admit, quite frustrating to enjoy them entirely.

ELYSIUM may have failed to match the same cinematic brilliance of DISTRICT 9, but for what it's worth, it's still enjoyable and worthy enough as a follow-up. At least, it does proves that Blomkamp wasn't a one-hit wunderkind at all.

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