Neill Blomkamp is something of a newcomer to the blockbuster scene. In 2009 he released his first feature length film, District 9, an adaptation of his earlier short film, alive in Johannesburg. Three years after his initial success, he has a second offering – Elysium.

It’s a science fiction film set in 2154, (the same year Avatar is set). The plot revolves around a dystopian future, where the poor live on an overpopulated earth, while the rich buy their way onto a super ship full of luxury and excess.

One of the things that most interests me about Blomkamp are the themes at the heart of his films. Both his feature films pass commentary on topical social issues. District 9 deals with issues around immigration – using aliens in South Africa as a way to explore issues around nationality and human rights.

…It follows the basis of many big budget action movies…

ElysiumElysium is equally politically aware, and very much a reaction to the 1% argument in recent years. It deals with the suffering of the poor while the rich grow richer and enjoy their excesses.

That’s not to say the film is a particularly serious or heavy watch. It follows the basis of many big budget action movies – the protagonist who out of desperation accepts a seemingly impossible mission. Matt Damon plays the lead, a somewhat selfish and headstrong man, with a past history of crime, but who’s trying to turn his life around. We all know the type (they’re in every action film).

…Crime grows and desperation rises among the masses…

As a whole the film is an interesting watch. In broad brush strokes it paints a dystopian future and an idyllic alternative that only the richest can buy into. It’s an somewhat scary idea – societies richest removed from the world to live in luxury served by robots, while the lower classes languish on earth and turn to more desperate ways of life. Industries continue to function, with poor workforces overseen by wealthy management. Crime grows and desperation rises among the masses.

It’s an interesting premise, and not too impossible to believe. Some of the technologies in the movie are already being developed, and the whole thing has a basis in reality. Personally I love a science fiction film that explains how the fictional world works. Despite its factual inspirations this film skates over the nitty gritty.

…The film has several holes…

Elysium 3There are stunning shots of a life sustaining space ship of sorts, and impressive vistas of a destroyed future earth, but both lack context. The film has several holes. Characters are poorly constructed, and back stories barely filled in. The use of flashbacks was a little heavy handed, and there was some very constructed dialogue.

There are some great acting performances though, that go a long way to holding your interest throughout the story. Matt Damon makes a great conflicted protagonist, while Sharlto Copley plays a convincingly twisted contract killer. Jodie Foster is a real favourite of mine, and doesn’t disappoint as Elysium’s defence secretary.

…Who regulates earth when the politicians are all in space?…

The portrayal of the future is impressively constructed and at the same time poorly explained.  The representation of the future is anachronistic with major plot points hinging on humans doing jobs we already automate and use robots for. As a stickler for details I found many of the questions I wanted answering went unmentioned – how did they decide the population to go? How long has it been active? Who regulates earth when the politicians are all in space? Is the onboard population limited or is there freedom – In which case won’t humanity repeat its own mistakes? And where do the supplies come from? Are there farms onboard?

You can see where the money was spent on this film – several scenes have really impressive special effects, with spaceships, robots, mechanical skeletons and the stunningly rendered Elysium spaceship. In places it’s a real spectacle.

…the film does its job of entertaining for its duration…

If you can switch off the more cynical questioning parts of your brain, and let the big budget effects and action simply wash over you, then the film does its job of entertaining for its duration. However if you start to consider the workings of the world the story takes place in, you’ll find yourself distracted by unexplained events and motivations.

For me this was a pretty good movie that could have a fantastic movie with a little more attention to detail. Like District 9 it left me pondering future possibilities and how society might react. However it also left me pondering all the unanswered questions, and with a lingering sense of frustration…

Med_3.5 Stars3.5 Stars

 

 

About The Author

Graduated Bristol UWE with a degree in Media Practice - since then I've been working in TV and travelling as much as possible. I'm a bookworm, I watch a lot of movies, and I have a major addiction to baking.

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