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Elysium Movie Review

Elysium (2013) movie poster Elysium

Theatrical Release: August 9, 2013 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Neill Blomkamp

Cast: Matt Damon (Max), Jodie Foster (Delacourt), Sharlto Copley (Kruger), Alice Braga (Frey), Diego Luna (Julio), Wagner Moura (Spider), William Fichtner (John Carlyle), Brandon Auret (Drake), Josh Blacker (Crowe), Emma Tremblay (Matilda), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Sandro), Maxwell Perry Cotton (Young Max), Faran Tahir (President Patel), Adrian Holmes (Manuel), Jared Keeso (Rico), Carly Pope (CCB Agent), Valentina Giron (Young Frey)
Elysium is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).Elysium ranks 59th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

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When a filmmaker's first feature makes as big a splash as Neill Blomkamp's District 9 did, it both heightens and blurs expectations for their follow-up effort.
It's reasonable to ask how much stored-up creativity was exhausted on that 2009 South African production and how indicative that debut was of the kind of writer/director Blomkamp will be. Four Augusts later, Elysium arrives to answer those questions.

Elysium springs from the same mold as District 9. It's an R-rated science fiction action film. As a reward for showing what he could do with $30 million, Blomkamp has raised a $90 million budget for his second feature, more than enough to assign pre-title billing to Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. A lucrative blockbuster winning over genre enthusiasts and thoughtful moviegoers alike, as well as being the rare sci-fi film to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, District 9 is exactly the kind of thing that sets someone up for the sophomore jinx. Blomkamp impressively avoids that fate and while Elysium won't reproduce the unprecedented reception of District 9, it will cement its maker as a young talent capable of crafting intelligent, thrilling sci-fi on a regular basis.

"Elysium" stars Matt Damon as Max, a reformed criminal taking drastic action to get to the titular space station after radiation from a workplace accident numbers his days.

After a brief prologue, Elysium is set in 2154. Its believably dystopic view of the future sees an expanded divide between the classes.
As residents of Earth deal with pollution and overpopulation, those with the means to make the 19-minute flight up to the titular space station have their worries disappear. Wealth, beauty, eternal youth, and instant medical care are there for the enjoyment of all those whose citizenship is verified by scanners.

Max (Damon) has grown up dreaming of life on the Stanford torus, while dealing with the rampant poverty, crime, and illiteracy of Earth. Adulthood finds Max bald, tattooed, and on parole yet again. Though he has turned around from his days as an ace car thief, Max's police record follows him and subjects him to suspicious, brutal interrogation from humorless robotic officers. Harm received from his questioning requires a hospital visit and his impatient boss to dock a half day's salary. Reminded that his factory position is easy to fill, Max reluctantly complies with directions to squeeze in to a tight spot to investigate a jammed door. That act results in disaster, as Max is exposed to lethal doses of radiation and given five days to live by the cold automated workplace medical service.

There's a quick fix for that death sentence, but it's found on Elysium and Max still has no way of getting there legally. Desperate, Max reconnects with his old criminal associates, including Spider (Wagner Moura), a hacker who regularly arranges for illegal flights to that space station. They're not always successful, as they must get past Elysium's Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Foster), who is ruthless about eliminating any unauthorized access to the paradise. Delacourt's methods, which include contracting monstrous ex-con mercenary Agent Kruger (District 9's lead Sharlto Copley, bulked up, bearded, and barely recognizable), earn her a final warning from Elysium's President (Faran Tahir). Instead of opting for more diplomatic techniques, Delacourt puts plans in motion for a coup to oust the President with the help of the calloused, wealthy CEO (William Fichtner) of the plant where Max works.

Some system-rebooting code transferred becomes invaluable to Max and his underworld connections, as he aims to not only save his own life, but that of the leukemic daughter of his closest childhood friend (Alice Braga). The data heist resembles a more concrete version of Inception's dream thievery, and it is just one of many layers in play between the two fundamentally different worlds.

Elysium's Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) takes whatever means necessary to protect her paradise space station from unauthorized visitors. Mercenary Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) questions Frey (Alice Braga), a life-long friend who offers Max medical assistance.

Like District 9, Elysium is allegorical science fiction, with real-world relevance plain for all to see. Whereas Blomkamp's first film revisited the apartheid policies of his native South Africa, this one obviously speaks of the hardship that many people in even the world's most developed countries know: grueling labor, outrageous medical care, a penal system that's strictest on the poor.

Blomkamp's social commentary will be more divisive this time around, since it involves current problems of society at large and not a closed chapter in history we all agree was flawed. Elysium's depictions are designed to provoke and are certain to make the easy to hate 1% uncomfortable. No matter your views and your net worth, you should be appreciative to encounter a summer movie (and a sci-fi action one, at that) with substance and something to say. In contrast to the crude commentary James Cameron gave Avatar, Elysium's targets are grounded, far-reaching, and less theoretical. Blomkamp has built a complex and nuanced state of the world in 140 years and none of it seems all that far-fetched. The film's Los Angeles resembles a war-torn third world country, where hospitals are overcrowded and grimy and more speak Spanish than English. Those who enjoy sci-fi for its escapism may resent spending the majority of the runtime in a place that feels like a significantly worse version of our reality. Meanwhile, those who avoid strange titles and otherworldly designs may appreciate for once getting some thoughtfulness attached to creative worlds and genre thrills.

As District 9 did to a small and forgivable degree, Elysium cashes in its rampant creativity to indulge in somewhat excessive action. The final act relies heavily on characters chasing one another through corridors, as the villain spouts generic one-liners like "That's what I'm talking about!" It's fun and exciting, but it feels a bit beneath such imaginative storytelling. In addition, Blomkamp doesn't always have the softest touch. The clunky prologue revisited throughout the film sometimes haphazardly feels like a post-production fix to ground the movie in a human relationship and universal yearning. The false notes were enough to earn some unintended chuckles at my largely quiet critics' screening. Whereas the director could get away with such a move as a novice nobody on his seemingly out-of-nowhere (though healthily budgeted and Peter Jackson-backed) debut, Blomkamp will be judged more harshly this time around, having enjoyed enviable success before even turning 30. Early reviews (two fresh for every rotten) suggest the slight backlash that seems inevitable given that the director is covering similar territory with much more at his disposal.

Nonetheless, Elysium does so much more right than wrong that it's tough to get too bothered by some gory visuals or hand-to-hand combat that outstays its welcome.

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp: District 9
Upside Down Looper In Time WALL-E Avatar Real Steel Sunshine
Matt Damon: Invictus Contagion The Rainmaker We Bought a Zoo Hereafter Ocean's Thirteen True Grit (2010)
Alice Braga: Blindness Predators The Rite | Jodie Foster: Flightplan The Beaver Taxi Driver | Diego Luna: Casa De Mi Padre
2013 Movies: Oblivion World War Z Iron Man 3 Olympus Has Fallen

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Reviewed August 9, 2013.

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