Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Rating: 4 out of 5 lockets (with pictures of earth in them, of course). This film is nearly perfect– an exciting and well-paced sci-fi that is simultaneously meaningful without sacrificing any of its action and fun (in the form of superb and scary special effects and beautifully-choreographed fights) for the sake of offering those heavy immigration/class themes. Its characters are interesting and likable as both villains and heroes, the only exception being Foster whose accent was perhaps the biggest flaw this film could possibly boast.
This film’s premise is both familiar as science fiction and all too resonant as allegory, but it is somehow fresh in its execution and moreover completely satisfying throughout, presenting and further remedying a future that seems all too possible. The year is 2154, and Los Angeles (and all of Earth, really) has become a third-world country of sorts, where multiple ethnic groups coexist in less-than-desirable living conditions. Meanwhile, on Elysium, a floating world away from this impoverished real-world, diseases can be cured instantly and everything is pristine, perfect and pretty prejudiced (against humans of Earth who are sick, poor, dirty and basically seen as illegal immigrants who try and fail to get to Elysium for salvation).
This leads us to our protagonist, Max, played by Matt Damon who, when exposed to radiation at his job on Earth, finds his way to Elysium through some pretty intense means– he’s hired to download some information that is very precious and therefore dangerous, leading to a lot of the fight sequences that are so intense but fun. Max himself is so endearing, and that is always helpful in science fiction, or in any movie, of any genre, really– we root for him because we see his humanity always, despite the robotic contraption he is surgically implanted with. Sharlto Copley, playing Kruger, is a well-matched foe; he is creepy, crazy, and power hungry beyond all belief. He is the true star of this movie, unlike the higher-billed Foster whose performance as Secretary Delacourt is the only thing about this movie that is sub-par (at best). Whatever weird accent she was doing– French? Elysian?– was just as impossible-to-place and awful as I had heard people tell me it was; if I hadn’t been warned prior to my renting this, I don’t know how I would have reacted. And if she had been in the movie anymore than she was, I probably would have been even more put off and distracted by it than I had been.
The film also boasts extraordinary special effects, as I mentioned– I thought every robot, every shuttle, every weapon and just in general any visual element meant to support and manifest the science fiction elements of the plot were so raw and realistic but also unique and expertly crafted, some of them even surprising me in ways I didn’t know this film would, that I couldn’t help but feel like this foreign time is upon us more than we’d like to think. But that realization doesn’t hurt our perception of the film– or at least it shouldn’t. The movie strikes an important duality that I feel is necessary for any good sci-fi film meant to impact us on a deeper level, and that is the balance between smarts and thrills. As a summer blockbuster, I’d like to hope people didn’t feel as if the themes of class and immigration issues were so obnoxious and obvious that the film couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be enjoyed at the same time as it could or should be understood. I saw these themes, of course as one should and probably can’t not when watching this film, but the film never uses these themes to condemn or talk down to its audience. In fact, these themes made the characters’ struggles and triumphs so much more worthwhile for me; by the film’s conclusion, we might find ourselves thinking, but we will surely also find ourselves cheering. This film was intelligent and entertaining, and in that sense, I would say it is a successful sci-fi film– for our current times especially.