District 9 was amazing. Can we all just agree on that? Neill Blomkamp hit the scene hard with that movie and so did Sharlto Copley as Wickum. It brought back the missing ingredient to science fiction. It brought back a message. It wrapped this message in a universe so fully fleshed out that one couldn’t help but to be swept away in it. It captured our imaginations and gave us one of the best modern finales to date. Expectations for Elysium are high to say the least.
Elysium begins it tale with Matt Damon playing a former criminal named Max in a future where Los Angeles has become a third world wasteland. Being a former criminal is a rarity in future L.A. as everyone seems to be up to no good. On parole, Max has found a job as a line worker in a military robotics factory called Armadyne. His job is to make sure the robots, who seem to be used in all facets of upper class life, are properly irradiated. His job sucks honestly, but Max is just happy to have it and that he is working towards a better life. His life long friend, and possible love interest, Frey has just returned to L.A. and has become a nurse. They are going to get coffee together.
Up above all this, lingering in the sky like an always visible moon (except six times larger to the human eye on earth), is Elysium, a space station that is very similar to the rings in Halo. They not only can sustain life, but are extremely luxurious. Elysium has its own atmosphere, rivers, trees, parks, but most importantly has med-pods capable of everything from curing cancer to regenerating body parts all in the span of a few seconds. This Bel-Air in the sky can only be reached by space shuttle and is only available to the mega-rich (We are talking billionaires here people). To the people who live in the slums that were once known as earth, Elysium is a constant dream that is always out of reach.
But up on Elysium everything isn’t as perfect as it seems behind the scenes. Jodie Foster plays a character called Delacourt who wants to defend Elysium by very violent means, including launching missiles as cargo ships carrying stowaway immigrants, killing over forty civilians. The president of Elysium doesn’t take too kindly to this and demands that she end her violent methods and terminates the employment of her sleeper agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) that shot down the ships. What’s her plan? To get the CEO of Armadyne (who designed Elysiums systems) to reboot the entire program and make Delacourt the president, effectively starting a coup. The CEO of Armadyne downloads the reboot program into his brain and begins making plans to return to Elysium to start the coup.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well through an interesting twist of fate, Max has an accident at the factory, is terribly irradiated to the point where he only has five days left to live, and decides that he is going to smuggle himself onto Elysium to use one of their med bays. “I’m not going to die yet”, he tells himself. Going through the black market Max has to install an outdated exo-suit into his spinal column and a large microchip into his brain that will allow him to download the contents of a wealthy Elysium residents brain. The data he retrieves will buy him a ticket on a smuggled ship to Elysium. Max just so happens to not be in the best of moods due to the questionable circumstances of his irradiation and requests that the CEO of Armadyne will be his target. See where this is going?
Long story short, Max attacks the CEO of Armadyne and gets the data that was in his brain, unaware of the value of the information. Delacourt sends her sleeper agent Kruger after Max, shootouts ensue, and eventually Max makes it to Elysium with the entire military branch hot on his heels.
By the way, Kruger (Sharlto Copley) steals the show.
So what’d I think? Well, the first third of the movie had me bowing before Neill Blomkamp and hailing him as the new king of sci-fi movies. And while the rest of the movie was visually very engaging, the action scenes were a bit sparse and underwhelming when compared to District 9. The final confrontation with Kruger felt under utilized considering the long build up for it. Matt Damon played his role well, but far too calm for the circumstances. The surgery scene had potential to really drive home what Max was doing to his body, but instead opted for a few quick-cut shots of bolts being drilled into his back instead of the actual surgery (hoping the DVD has a more intense version of it).
I loved Kruger’s interactions with Frey (played by Alice Braga), because they really fleshed out his strange mix of psychopath with a weird appeal. He tells her to close her daughters eyes, because he doesn’t like children to view violence. As menacing as that sounds, he sincerely meant it. And then he punches Frey right in the face, demanding that she continue to keep her daughters eyes closed. Every moment you see Kruger he manages to make you hate him and respect him in the same breath.
The visuals are incredible, but expected. My concern was with the guns though. In District 9 the guns are given plenty of time to shine on-screen with all their sci-fi weirdness. In Elysium the guns are typically shown once and then immediately discarded for something else. And this is a shame, because the few times they are given priority in shots they made the audience let out an audible, “Wowwwwww”.
Is it fair for me to continually compare Elysium with District 9? Of course. Same director utilizing a similar concept and including a star from the former film. District 9 will be remembered forever as a staple of the sci-fi movie genre, but Elysium will find it’s home as a popcorn movie that is more interesting than most this summer, but not interesting enough for us to remember it a few months from now.