ELYSIUM **** (out of five)
Finally, towards the tail end of a terrible series of Hollywood’s 2013 “summer blockbusters”, comes Elysium, an extremely expensive auteurist work that puts the Men of Steel, Iron, and those Rangers who roam Lone to shame.
Writer / director Neill Blomkamp has achieved, at the age of thirty-three, something extraordinary. He leaped from making short films to making the Best Picture Oscar-nominated spectacular debut feature District 9 in 2009 with a budget of thirty million dollars, that looked like seventy million; he has now followed that minor masterpiece up with a true, honest-to-goodness mega-blockbuster that cost a hundred and looks like one-fifty. And he is the single credited writer / director. This puts him in the company of James Cameron and — well, pretty much no-one else. Even Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan write with partners and share writing credit. Elysium is the work of one mind, and Hollywood threw hundreds of millions (once you include marketing) at it and let it boil.
Even more astonishing, it’s a bloody good movie, a ripping yarn, a dark dystopian future sci-fi, full of action, astonishing imagery, a superb score (Ryan Amon), great performances (with one exception) and such an assured sense of style that I was continually bowled over… the sheer chutzpah of this guy is jaw-dropping.
Tonally a direct descendant of District 9, Elysium posits another dusty, dirty, overpopulated future city (this time Los Angeles instead of Johannesburg) but places a heaven for the very wealthy, Elysium, a space station, in the sky above, fully visible but unattainable by the earth’s wretched masses, now policed and administered by robots of varying, but inevitably lackluster, compassion. Matt Damon plays Max, an ex-con trying to get clean who, by a quick series of misfortunes, ends up stirring the entire pot that is this unequal existence. Action happens, along with a hell of a lot of brilliant production design.
Shalto Copley, the lead from District Nine, plays Kruger, Max’s chief antagonist, as a Terminator / Humongous (from The Road Warrior) type, a shit-kicking, bad-ass mo-fo who is just pure screen-time pleasure. Indeed, the film’s every moment acknowledges all sorts of influences we know and love, the Mad Max films being the most present, but including (obviously, not disguisedly) 2001, The Terminator, Children of Men and basically everything in-between. Blomkamp celebrates our love of the “dirty future”, revels in it, and then gives us a new classic of the genre.
This is excellent filmmaking, told with passion, precision and vision. It must be seen on the big screen, and, given the awful “epics” of the (northern) summer thus far, you’ll be grateful for one that finally delivers what they all promise: thrills, spills and chills. The only bum note is Jodie Foster’s performance as a military rogue agent; she tries something stylized, and it is so off-the-mark that it’s laughable (unfortunately), and, for worse measure, her entire performance has been quite obviously re-voiced at a later date, lord knows why. Everything else about this seriously thought-out ride is fine-tuned, and well worth your twenty bucks. Blomkamp is here to stay. Get used to him, and get excited.