In the future, the earth has become overpopulated, polluted, and stricken with disease. To combat this, the world’s wealthier residents build and flee to a ritzy space habitat known as Elysium, leaving earth and the rest of its inhabitants to rot. Max (Matt Damon) always dreamed of leaving earth but when he is given only five days to live, he becomes desperate to reach Elysium and the instant-healing med bays that propagate every home. In order to do so, however, he must take on an extremely dangerous job that draws the ire of Elysium’s secretary of defense (Jodie Foster) and her psychotic security agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
I’ve been looking forward to Elysium for quite some time now as it combines two of my favorite things: science-fiction and Matt Damon. It certainly didn’t hurt that the entire concept came from the mind of Neill Blomkamp, who is responsible for 2009’s Oscar-nominated entry District 9 and who stands as one of the rising stars in the genre. I’m not sure that Elysium quite measures up to District 9 but it is still a strong film that holds a place as one of the better entries of the summer. Blomkamp’s strengths as a sci-fi visionary are on full display here and he makes excellent use of the $100 million budget he had to work with by limiting the film’s scale and preventing it from becoming the CGI overload it very easily could have been. Max isn’t particularly challenging or memorable but in true Damon fashion, he makes his character likable and brings the appropriate frenetic energy that the role calls for. Copley is an excellent counterpart for Damon to the point that you find yourself wanting more of their rivalry. And Blomkamp builds an interesting world in which his characters operate, taking Elysium beyond becoming just another sci-fi concept film.
There are definitely flaws that pop up along the way. Foster’s character is poorly written and underdeveloped and the speech pattern that all of the Elysians speak with is maddening. The plot doesn’t always come together seamlessly and Elysium falls into more clichés than I would have liked. But even at its worst, it is still better than most blockbusters of this sort. What really sets the film apart is Blomkamp’s commitment to the development to a rather simple plotline (a desperate man trying to find a way to survive) in a complex environment. The film is not as gritty or dark as District 9 but it’s still telling a weighty story. As such, Elysium retains a measure of power in relation to the central narrative while still maintaining a high entertainment value. Grade: B+ (Rated R for language, violence, and some gruesome imagery)