johnlink ranks ELYSIUM (2013)

One problem with having kids is that many a movie go through theaters without a chance to see them. This is understandable with small films, but even big movies like ELYSIUM come and go and I never remember them being there (and I work at a movie theater). In the years B.C. (Before Children, of course) I would have been in theaters opening weekend for ELYSIUM. Now, I am catching it on Starz on Demand. Anyway, here’s what I thought…


I watched ELYSIUM (2013) on 3.31.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp’s feature film career may be only two movies old (DISTRICT 9 and ELYSIUM) but he clearly has an auteur style. We will see science fiction in a dirty world, protagonists who do many things which don’t live up the idea of ‘hero’, a ruling class with little regard to anyone outside of their circle (which, as is well documented, refers to the Apartheid era of Blomkamp’s native South Africa), brutal and graphic violence, and Sharlto Copley.

ELYSIUM is not a clean movie. Set in the 2150s, Matt Damon’s Max is shown as a child: idealistic and optimistic. When the movie catches up, a few decades later, Max is an ex-convict who is beaten down and tired. He’s still a good guy as long as things are going modestly well. His mouth might get him in trouble and we see flashes of anger, but he seems well-liked.

Something happens to him to cause his life to be in serious danger. He has five days to rectify it. The only place he can go is up to the human colony of Elysium which orbits the Earth. Elysium is the ultimate 1 percenter haven. The people live a peaceful and happy life, oblivious to the pain below. Damon’s Max will go to the extreme to get up there, but he sure isn’t bringing along anyone who might slow him down in order to be a ‘nice guy’.

It is in that last sentiment that ELYSIUM subverts the normal science fiction narrative. Max is a man stressed to the limit. He wants to be good, but the immediacy of his situation puts him in a place of choosing between a likely fatal moral choice or a potentially less fatal, but clearly less moral, choice. The movie bails him out of both of the major decisions he makes, but it also punishes him for making them.

In the role of villain is Sharlto Copley as the brutal Kruger. This mercenary leads a small team of guys out to capture Max for some information he has gathered. Kruger will use any means of leverage to enhance his position. He always chooses the immoral choice, making him more efficient than Max. It also makes him the villain.

Somewhere in the middle of these guys is Spider (Wagner Moura). A guy with the ability to fly people on (mostly unsuccessful) missions to Elysium. He makes money of a most-likely deadly mission. He prays on people’s last shred of hope for his own profit. Yet, to hear him talk, he also wants to do the right thing for those people. We get the sense that he has lost his way long before the movie starts, yet the events of the movie lead him to become as much a hero as Max. It is an interesting path.

It is through these characters that ELYSIUM, as a film, feels like an entire universe. We are dropped in on this story, but the world has been spinning long before we get there. The world creation is the film’s strongest asset, along with some really nice action set pieces.

The writing is fairly solid too. Because of the uniqueness of some of the character beats, the more cliche moments feel even more cliche than normal. Jodie Foster’s super villain Delacourt  and William Fichtner’s sub-villain Carlyle are particularly two dimensional. At under two hours ELYSIUM had time to develop their thread a little more. Perhaps Blomkamp felt he needed villains without any sympathy. The movie isn’t all it could be because it lacks a well-rounded counter-narrative to why the haven of Elysium was necessary in the first place.

That said, this is really solid action/sci-fi. Perhaps not as nuanced as DISTRICT 9, to be sure. Yet the action and drive of ELYSIUM make it more than a worthy visit. It belongs on the shelf along with Blomkamp’s first feature at the very least.





~ by johnlink00 on April 1, 2014.

4 Responses to “johnlink ranks ELYSIUM (2013)”

  1. Not as smart as District 9, but still as thrilling and as tense as you could get with a sci-fi, action blockbuster. Good review John.

  2. Solid review well done. I was a little underwhelmed when I first saw the movie to be honest. I think I’d like to watch it again to see if my opinion has changed. Damon was great in the role though and you’re right Ms Foster was woefully underused.

    • Thanks for reading! I wasn’t blown away by Elysium either. I had heard mixed things, so I think it helped my mindset that I didn’t go in expecting something as good as District 9. I would probably have been disappointed if my expectations were at the same level I had them when I first heard about the project.

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