Neill Blomkamp’s debut District 9 was my favorite movie of 2009, so naturally I had a lot of anticipation for his followup. Blomkamp did not disappoint. Now it does have it’s fair share of flaws, but it rises above them in the end.
The plot takes place on Earth in 2154, where due to overpopulation, disease and pollution, the richest of the rich have left the planet to colonize a giant wheel-like space station called Elysium. Max(Damon) is an ex-con working in Los Angeles, who is struggling to even keep his job at a factory run by pompous John Carlyle(Fichtner). After an accident at the factory that leaves him toxically radiated with 5 days to live, he strikes up a deal with local crimelord Spider(Moura) to rob John Carlyle of precious data in his head. Max is outfitted with a mechanical exo-skeleton to compensate for his weakened state. The data in his head however contains secrets that could change Elysium forever, and Defense Secretary of Elysium Delacourt(Foster) calls upon a sleeper agent Kruger(Copley) to hunt Max down and reclaim the information in his head.
Blomkamp has a fantastic sense of world-building, as we’ve seen in District 9, and here as well. The world that Elysium is set in feels incredibly real despite it’s futuristic sci-fi setting. From the look of the depraved Earth and the shiny station Elysium to how the technology works, you don’t stop to question it. This has been one of Blomkamp’s strengths throughout his young career. He really understands every aspect of the world he’s creating.
This isn’t Matt Damon’s showiest role by any means, and you get the feeling a lot of actors could have performed the lead role, but Damon still does a competent job making his character believable and fully-realized. As much as I like Jodie Foster, I am sad to say her performance was very phoned in. It didn’t help that Delacourt was already written very one-note to begin with, but her indecision on a consistent accent and cartoonish delivery didn’t help. Alice Braga and Diego Luna are given somewhat thankless roles as Max’s boyhood friend/love interest and Max’s close friend, but they still perform them admirably. The two most impressive performances come from Sharlto Copley and Brazilian powerhouse Wagner Moura. Copley’s Kruger is a menacing delight to watch. His accent is even thicker than it was in District 9, in fact I had trouble understanding a good portion of his lines, but that did not stop me from being thoroughly entertained by his performance. Wagner Moura is completely entertaining as the gang boss Spider, full of charisma and power that his character needed. This will be many American’s first glimpse at Wagner Moura, and I truly hope this beckons them to go back and view his other performances(specifically the Elite Squad films), as he is a truly incredible actor.
Blomkamp brings back all the aspects that made District 9 work. Heightened aesthetic of realism, refreshingly well-done CG, shocking amounts of hardcore violence/gore and just the right amount of social bite. In fact my friend who I saw it with suggested that he could be this generation’s Paul Verhoeven, a statement I agree with. Like Verhoeven, he knows how to make a completely entertaining film with social satire and hyper amounts of violence threaded in. The action is remarkable when it’s gunfights and larger-scale battles/explosions, but unfortunately when it gets to the hand-to-hand combat it suffers from a lack of control of the hand-held camera work, disorienting the viewer as to what exactly is happening. However, Blomkamp has crafted a fully entertaining and thoughtful film with Elysium, and I’m even more excited for what the future holds for him.