Matt Damon as Max
Jodie Foster as Delacourt
Sharlto Copley as Kruger
Alice Braga as Frey
Diego Luna as Julio
Wagner Moura as Spider
William Fichtner as John Carlyle
Brandon Auret as Drake
Josh Blacker as Crowe
Emma Tremblay as Matilda
Jose Pablo Cantillo as Sandro
Maxwell Perry Cotton as Young Max
Faran Tahir as President Patel
Adrian Holmes as Manuel
Jared Keeso as Rico
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Cool world-building and gritty sci-fi action make "Elysium" a film worth checking out for genre fans.
In the year 2154, the Earth has been ruined by pollution, population overcrowding, poverty, crime, and disease, but the wealthy class has found a solution by leaving Earth and living on a luxurious space station called Elysium. The rest of humanity must fight over the scraps left behind to survive on the planet.
Max grew up dreaming of living on Elysium along with his childhood friend Frey, but that dream disappeared as he fell into a life of crime. Now on probation, he is trying to straighten up his life even as he's harassed by police, bosses, and his former partners in crime.
When Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation in an industrial accident, he only has one hope for survival – Elysium. Medical machines there can save his life if he can manage to sneak onto the highly-guarded station. Max makes a deal with local crime lord and smuggler Spider to get there.
Spider forces him to be surgically attached to an exoskeleton that enhances his strength. But as Max soon discovers, there's a lot more at stake than his own personal health. The leaders of Elysium will do everything in their power to stop Max from accomplishing his mission.
"Elysium" is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.
Neill Blomkamp is hitting the sweet spot of what I like each time. My movie tastes were formed by films like "Terminator," "Predator," "RoboCop" and "Aliens." They were all sci-fi stories with spectacular elements and gritty action, but they were still very much grounded in reality. That seems to be Blomkamp's forte and "Elysium" is another example of why.
One of my big problems with sci-fi is that they often have an unrealistic depiction of the future. They tend to show flying cars, lightspeed travel, and jetpacks only 20 years from now. "Elysium," set in 2154, shows technology and environments that are entirely believable for 140 years from now. Cybernetic implants are no more unusual than an iPhone. Flying ships capable of space flight are as common as everyday cars. Medical miracles are as ordinary as penicillin. Robots are as much of a nuisance as automated phone messages. But it's not all jetpacks and chrome in the future. Los Angeles is just as believable as a ruined hellhole as it is a futuristic Mecca. Division of the social classes is the same as it has been throughout the rest of history. And political conspiracies are as alive and well as they were in ancient Rome. Blomkamp, in his world building, has found the right balance between futuristic elements and the same familiar problems that have plagued mankind since the dawn of history. (Anybody saying this film promotes socialism needs to look back at thousands of years of stories about class warfare.) The end result is a great backdrop for a much more personal story about Max.
You could very easily take Max's story and put it in any time period. It's a story about a man trying to set his life right, both spiritually and physically, and Matt Damon sells it well. He makes a great everyman that is likable even though he has a criminal past. It doesn't hurt that he's also believable in the action scenes. And that is yet another trademark of Blomkamp – brutal sci-fi action. Every time a character grabs a gun, you wonder what creative and spectacular way the target will no doubt gorily die. It's like a Cracker Jack box of sci-fi carnage.
Damon is supported by a relatively small supporting cast. Alice Braga plays Frey, his childhood friend and love interest. The two have good chemistry on the screen. Diego Luna also plays Julio, Max's partner in crime. Like Damon, he's likable despite his criminal lifestyle. Then there's Wagner Moura as Spider, the crime lord that Max must make a deal with. He sets the events in motion for the story and becomes a bigger and bigger player as the story progresses. Finally, there is Sharlto Copley as Kruger. Few actors could play a pencil pusher (like in "District 9") and a psychotic trained killer equally convincingly, but Copley does it well. I never doubted for a moment that he was a cold-blooded, cyborg mercenary.
What Didn't Work:
As far as the story goes, there weren't all that many surprises. The trailers told me most of the plot and it wasn't hard to fill in the rest. Fortunately the world is exciting enough to be immersed in that it made the trip to space and back worthwhile. It also seemed unusual that early in the film, Elysium is portrayed as an impenetrable fortress. Then, by the end, people come and go from it with relative ease and there only seems to be a skeleton security force on the station. For a film otherwise firmly grounded in realism, it felt unrealistic.
My next complaint is something I never expected to complain about – the accents. I work with people from China, Korea, the UK, Greece, India, Malaysia, and Mexico on a daily basis. I have no problem listening to foreign accents. Yet as Spider and Kruger spoke, more than once I had a hard time understanding what they were saying. Copley's accent, for the most part, is pretty cool, but I think he does lay it on a bit thick. At one point when he said "wife" like "woyf," I heard several chuckles in the audience during an otherwise serious scene. But the worst accent in the film belongs to Jodie Foster as Delacourt. She seems to be channeling Martha Stewart as she speaks. We're so familiar with her real voice that when she tries to vary it, it comes across poorly. I wish she had simply played the role with her everyday accent because it would have been less distracting.
The Bottom Line:
People have been saying the "District 9" is better than "Elysium" and I would agree with them, but "Elysium" should still please any fans of sci-fi or Matt Damon. It's a nice dose of gritty sci-fi to the summer movie lineup.