Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Elysium - Movie Review

After the success and critical acclaim of District 9, writer/director Neill Blomkamp quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of science fiction movies. Now, with Elysium, he raises the stakes with a story that attempts to be as thought provoking as it is visually stunning. Matt Damon stars alongside Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, and Diego Luna.

Max (Damon) is a former car thief who has given up a life of crime for an honest paycheck and the hope that he can someday make it up to Elysium where a seemingly perfect world has been created in the stars as an escape from a ravaged and impoverished planet below. As the orbital habitat continually makes its way around earth carrying the population's wealthiest and most powerful citizens, the rest of the human race is in a constant fight for survival and Max is finding it harder and harder to keep himself on the straight and narrow path.

On Elysium itself, things aren't quite as tranquil as they might seem as political infighting and constant power struggles threaten the habitat's very existence and it us up to security chief Delacourt (Foster) to keep the peace no matter what the cost. Using tactics that aren't always agreed upon by the governing powers that be and utilizing controversial assets like the powerful mercenary Kruger (Copley) has her positioned to either lose her position of power or consolidate all of it to her own office to do with as she wishes.

Back on earth, a job related injury has put Max in a race against time before a lethal dose of radiation takes its toll and the only way out is to reach for the stars where advanced technology on Elysium can provide a cure. The problem with this is how any attempt to reach Elysium without the proper authorization is met with disastrous results thanks to Delacourt's security tactics. Fortunately, one of Max's old pals from his criminal past has a way to get him past the high tech defenses and a plan is hatched which may not only save his own life, but the lives of every citizen on the planet.

While this story is more of an action adventure than the political and societal commentary that was District 9, Blomkamp still manages to deliver a solid story while dazzling the audience with some impressively realistic science fiction elements. Not one frame of this movie looks computer animated although I'm pretty sure every one of those same frames has had some sort of digital effects added to it somewhere along the way. You may find the story fairly predictable and at times a little over the top, but you won't really care as the action is nonstop and intense and the visuals are about as impressive as you'll find.

One thing that really stuck out to me is how much, intentional or not, of the Halo universe has made it into both Elysium and District 9. If you didn't know, Blomkamp was originally hired by Microsoft to direct at least one Halo movie until financial wrangling between the software company and Hollywood studios shelved the project altogether. There had been a ton of research and development done on the project and everything was moving along nicely right up until the time when filming was supposed to start so I can't help but believe that a lot of those assets made it into these two movies including weapons, vehicles, and even Elysium itself is basically a modified Halo ring!

One of the more reliable things about Elysium is the solid and dependable performance by Matt Damon who continues to establish himself as a bankable action star, but the person you really want to keep your eyes on is Sharlto Copley whose brilliant take on the would be villain is really the highlight of the whole movie. The most awkward performance award easily goes to Jodie Foster who used some weirdly random accent that made it seem like the film's technical crew did a horrible job of dubbing her dialog...or maybe that's actually what happened. Either way, she almost single handedly derails the entire production as the whole time your brain is just trying to make sense of what is going on with this normally dependable actress.

While Elysium isn't as groundbreaking as Blomkamp's debut effort, it will still go down as a very solid effort that will continue to solidify his reputation as a frontrunner in the science fiction genre. If he keeps up this level of technical brilliance, other directors and special effects houses are going to be playing catch up for a long, long time.

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