Neill Blomkamp’s feature-film debut, 2009’s District 9, garnered widespread acclaim for blending its science fiction thrills and high-octane action with a serious message about apartheid. Whilst not a straight forward sequel, Elysium is a film very much in the same vein as District 9, allowing Blomkamp to turn his critical eye towards other big issues like global inequality and immigration.
The premise is simple: it is the year 2154 and the world’s wealthiest inhabitants have fled to a space station named “Elysium” in order to continue living their comfortable lives, while the rest of world struggles on a planet where jobs are rare and poverty is rife – and a life on Elysium can only be dreamt of. In comes Matt Damon, playing car-thief-turned hero Max Da Costa, who tries to infiltrate this other earth.
Opposite Damon is Sharlto Copley (reunited with Blomkamp following his performance as District 9’s Wickus Van Der Merwe) who is excellent in his portrayal of sadistic antagonist Kruger. Copley provides some much-needed comic relief despite playing a character with absolutely no redeeming qualities. It’s a performance that outshines Elysium’s other villain: Jodie Foster’s cold-hearted Secretary of Defense amounts to little more than a poor Margaret Thatcher impression.
This doesn’t detract too much from the film, however, as Matt Damon’s standout performance expertly merges action heroics with a believable vulnerability that brings the emotional weight of the story home. This is something Elysium as a whole does rather well, neatly balancing its superbly executed slow-motion CGI shots with a gripping and thought-provoking plot.
Overall, Elysium is a film well-served by its parts, with superb characters, actors, a strong script and fantastic CGI visuals. And while these parts do not merge perfectly, and the emotional climax feels slightly forced, the components are strong enough to deliver a successful film. It is a stellar return for the visionary Blomkamp, and it will be interesting to see what his 2015 “Chappie” (and inevitable reunion with Sharlto Copley) will bring.