Who knew movies about social reform could be so awesome?
The bar was set pretty high for director Neil Blomkamp after he burst onto the scene with District 9, a movie that was easily one of the best 2009 had to offer, but it seems the South African has done it again with his newest film, Elysium.
The two films share strong parallels ranging from thematic elements all the way to genre, as Elysium takes a strong look at relevant hot-button issues that are currently affecting societies around the world. Despite the fact that it takes such strong stances on truly polarizing topics, the movie is so much more than its message: It’s a lot of fun too.
Blomkamp once again looks to the future with Elysium, set in the year 2154, when the uber-rich have fled Earth to live on a utopian space station called Elysium. It’s a place with remarkable medical technology and clean air, a place in which citizens’ every need is met. Those left on Earth are forced to live in squalor (the film was once again shot in the slums of South Africa) and struggle just to survive.
Expectedly, the folks on Elysium do everything they can to keep the muckity mucks out by enforcing a strict (and often brutal) immigration policy. This is, of course, where two of the main thematic elements of the film come into play: health care and immigration. While it’s a clearly fictionalized metaphor, I couldn’t help but feel bad for living in America after the credits started to role. But for as obvious as those messages are in Elysium, the movie never devolves into sermon and instead just uses these ideas to give the characters motivation and propel them forward.
You see, the protagonist of the film, Max (Matt Damon), is dying. After he receives a lethal dose of radiation while working in a factory, he’s sent home with a bottle of pills and a five-day life expectancy. Needless to say, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting off Earth making his way to the medical miracles that are commonplace on the space station. As if that wasn’t enough science fiction for you, Blomkamp (who also wrote the script) suits Damon up with a surgically grafted exoskeleton that grants him not only super strength, but the ultimate expression of mind over matter as he uses it to force his failing body into action.
Despite his newfound abilities, Damon finds himself facing off against District 9 alum Sharlto Colpley, who takes a swing at playing the villain this time around – and does a pretty damn good job at it. While Damon is excellent portraying the man trying to beat death, Colpley counters him by portraying a mercenary who walks with the Reaper as he does Elysium’s dirty work. The two characters complement each other perfectly, especially during their final faceoff. Of course, the entire film is filled with great performances from the likes of Jodi Foster and William Fitchner, among others.
What I like most about Blomkamp as a director is that he has a very clear set of ideas and a strong social view, which shines bright in all his films to date. Beyond that, he makes fun, thought-provoking movies. I personally feel like Elysium is this year’s Looper: a fun science fiction film that give you the chance to have that two-hour discussion with your friends afterward. Like I said before, Blomkamp makes some very powerful points with the film (even going so far to suggest the idea that technology can never truly replace humans, no matter how awesome it gets), and it’s pretty clear that he’s talking about America, but I never felt defensive at any point. Instead, it gave me the opportunity to look at important issues from another perspective.
I can’t recommend Elysium highly enough, especially because it’s going to make our summer superlatives so difficult this year (it really is that good). However, I will warn those with delicate dispositions that there is a fair amount of gore (though none of it is gratuitous). Everyone else will want to catch this film on the big screen as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to watch as Blomkamp slowly becomes one of the better directors to emerge in the new millennium. I’m going to watch his career very carefully from this point forward.