Movie Review

Film Review: ELYSIUM (2013): A Model for Good Science Fiction Filmmaking

Sharlto Copley Elysium

Elysium (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Brandon Auret, Josh Blacker, Emma Tremblay, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Faran Tahir, Adrian Holmes , Jared Keeso, Carly Pope, and Ona Grauer.

Elysium (2013) is that rare sci-fi film which satisfies and leaves a mark on you, unlike the majority of science fiction blockbusters we get to see every summer. Every now and then we have films like Oblivion (2013) or Total Recall (2013) and the only thing that keeps these films watchable is their stars. Elysium however is memorable. It has a message and it hits like a hammer with meaningful and emotive impact which is greatly orchestrated by Neil Blomkamp. Elysium has its flaws but those flaws exist only in comparison to Blomkamp spectacular directional debut-District 9 (2009). In all honesty, no other sci-fi motion picture this year-not even Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) can best it. Elysium is not a masterpiece because the material simply doesn’t get to that level. The truth is, however, that if every science fiction film was as heart-breaking, wise and awesomely spectacular as Elysium is the blockbuster season would have been infinitely better.

The film is visually amazing. The majority of it takes place in a raw, dark-looking, ruined environment. When we witness the futuristic elements of this world, including the robots, the set design, the exoskeletons, the weapons and the wounds we can just literally feel the savagery of this world in the fictional year 2145. Yes, Earth is ugly as hell, but the shots are definitely not. The action sequences are great. Blomkamp is actually creating a new visual style for the depiction of combat. It is simply amazing when the camera is moving just as fast as an incoming fist and still the main character and his wrathful face is in focus, while the whole vastly spinning world around it fills the rest of the screen in colour. It’s like that character throwing the punch is determining the fate of that spinning world. Actually this was exactly what was going on at that particular shot. Here I am talking just about several moments but the artistry and the innovatively of these moments is spectacular.

It came to me as a surprise how superbly engaging Matt Damon was in this film. Yes, Jason Bourne is awesome but there is no way you can feel so much for Jason Bourne as you feel for Max. Probably that’s due to the fact that Max goes through so much suffering but in fact all that suffering wouldn’t have had any particular effect if it wasn’t for Damon’s affecting humanity. Max is born to be a hero-and yet you clearly see and feel how this is just a normal guy under horrible circumstances. I have never felt so much for a Mat Damon character as for Max Da Costa.

Regardless of Damon’s solid performance, the star of the show is undeniably Sharlto Copley, just like in District 9. This actor has some sort of wild charisma that makes everything he does cool. He is a terrifying villain-cunning, unstoppable, visually spectacular, with metal USB-port looking protrusions all over his body. Even Copley’s villainous kindness frightens you because his face might be smiling but you see that blistering insanity boiling in his eyes all the time. Sharlto does crazy things on screen but he is so incredibly believable. Just like Matt Damon stated about him about their process of collaboration-he reminds of Heath Ledger. Indeed, Kruger reminded me of The Dark Knight’s Joker. Kruger was certainly not so original, brilliant or detailed but he was visceral, thrilling, insane, viscous to the point of being likable and just like Ledger’s Joker when he is on the screen he is stealing the show.

All of that wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Blomkamp, who is certainly the sci-fi director/writer of his generation. He knows what all great directors do-that a solid film has to have a good idea, meaning and message which are backed up by a strong emotional punch. He has created two great enemies-Max and Kruger. Both of them know the hellish environment that is Earth. Both of them have some unique characteristics that make them even more special and likable. Max was thief out of his childhood desire to save enough money and go to that heavenly place called Elysium. Kruger hunts the citizen of Earth-the enemies of Elysium but he lives there, among them and treats them with respect and even kindness. The fact that he blows them to shreds right afterwards makes Kruger even cooler.

The similarities between the world as we know it today and the futuristic horrible future of Elysium are exceptionally affecting and true. The 1 % of rich does not care about the rest of the world living in misery. The 99 % suffer for the 1 %. This is what happens today and this is what happens in Elysium. The way Blomkamp shows us the raw truth through fiction is absolutely the best way to engage the audience emotionally and to make them think. Not only does Blomkamp successfully draw these parallels but he actually shows us some unique facts about the world of the poor and the wealthy like the fact that both groups aren’t happy with what they have. The wealthy live in constant fear of losing what they have, while the poor are fighting for their lives. In fact at some point both groups start to look to the opposite worlds with longing. This is only one interesting aspect of the opposition ‘rich-poor’ which is explored in Elysium.

The most emotionally powerful thing about Elysium is Max’s story. It perfectly encapsulates the common destiny of those living in misery and poverty. They can fight it but ultimately they can’t escape it because this is where they belong, where their home is and what they have learned to love. That combination of being a hero and a normal guy at the same time is what makes both Max and Wikus (protagonist of District 9) so extremely likable and engaging. Not many heroes are so humane, so down to earth-with their egoistic desires getting in their way. Blomkamp’s two greatest strengths in terms of storytelling are one: creating realistic heroes who achieve incredible feats and two: crafting stories that hit you hard with their meaning and their emotion and that’s exactly why Elysium works so well.

Yes, in comparison to District 9, Elysium does feel smaller than in itself. The plot, the setting, the characters are very similar but the reason why Elysium is not as good as District 9 is District 9’s boldness and its originality. District 9 was the very first modern film that directly stated that humans are evil. It allied an alien and a human (a human who is transforming into an alien) against the common enemy and that enemy is us. Avatar (2009) did the same in the same year but Avatar is not exactly a film one could give points for originality, is it? There is nothing so bold or striking about Elysium. Elysium is all about Max’s journey and the suffering of the poor. District 9 was about both those things but for example, it made you feel ashamed as a human. Elysium makes you feel ashamed of the rich at best.

Regardless, Elysium is one of the best science fiction films since the beginning of the 2000s-It is certainly in the top 3. It is an essential science fiction film which shows us the future as it will be if today’s world doesn’t change and the relations between the wealthy and the poor escalate. But most of all Elysium is an emotional, personal journey of a man struggling against the cruel world and ultimately getting what he wants, regardless of the sacrifices he makes.

Rating 8/10

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About the author

Deyan Angelov

My name is Deyan Angelov and I am 25. I have written articles for FilmBook. I graduated from the University of London, Royal Holloway in 2014. I have worked as an air operator, sound recorder and camera operator for different TV stations. I have participated in a variety of internships at Nu Boyana Film Studios.

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