When Neill Blomkamp arrived on the scene in 2009 with the impossible-to-categorize masterpiece District 9, the world was taken by surprise. After it earned over $200 million and four Oscar nominations, Blomkamp was left with the challenge of following it up. Four years later, Elysium marks his triumphant return.
In a timely parallel to our present, Elysium takes place in the year 2154, where the wealthy one per cent live on a wheel-shaped space station above the Earth (giving the movie its title) and the other 99 struggle every day back on the ground, amidst overpopulation, poverty, and disease. Elysium is so advanced that people who live there can be cured of every illness or injury in mere seconds.
Matt Damon plays Max, a factory worker on a robot assembly line. When he gets accidentally bathed with a lethal amount of radiation at his job, he finds out he has five days left to live – unless he can get to Elysium, where he could be cured. Standing in his way are Elysium’s ruthless Secretary of Defence (Jodie Foster) and the psychotic mercenary in her employ (Sharlto Copley).
Just as District 9’s story actually told an allegory about Apartheid, Elysium is a thinly disguised examination of the haves and have-nots dividing the United States today. Not only is the future it envisions startlingly possible, but it works just as well as a statement on America’s foreign policies and the country’s constant battle with illegal immigrants.
For the bulk of the movie, Blomkamp’s ideas, social commentary, visual flair are enough to keep Elysium in the ranks of great modern sci-fi. Unfortunately, in the final act, the movie loses its ability to balance action with story and becomes a slightly more typical, guns-blazing, futuristic actioner.
Even the best science-fiction can often be picked apart the more audiences scrutinize it. What differentiates the Loopers from the Men in Black 3s is how well they’re able to distract you while you’re watching them. Elysium does fantastically well for a good percentage of the movie, but can’t help losing its lustre alongside its logic by the end.
Elysium is a flawed movie that has great ideas it doesn’t quite know how to use and doesn’t end as strongly as it begins. Still, really good science-fiction is rare and Elysium is just that. It may not be another District 9, but it certifies that Neill Blomkamp is no one-hit-wonder and conclusively makes him one of the most promising directors working today.