Neill Blomkamp tops the list of my five favorite great directors of the future. (Duncan Jones, Rian Johnson, Matt Reeves, and Josh Trank are the others) His first film out of the box, District 9, is probably the most original, groundbreaking, sci-fi action film we’ve seen for two decades. Though, that film’s faux documentary style allowed Blomkamp some leeway to radically tell a story. A style that worked like gangbusters. However, I hoped and knew that Blomkamp wouldn’t want to be pigeonholed to that type of filmmaking. The question was how well could he tell a story in the more traditional fashion. His sophomore effort Elysium proves that Blomkamp can be a multifaceted director. However, he might need a bit more subtlety as a writer. Because for all Elysium’s pulse pounding action and jaw dropping visuals, its message seems to clumsily get in the way.
The concept is great. The rich and affluent people of earth depart for a super advanced space station called Elysium. There, food shortages, crime, and diseases are nonexistent. A small group of earth rebels, led by a recently dying Matt Damon, fight to get up to Elysium before his time runs out. An ALLEGORY that is clear enough to understand even for the normally oblivious. However, Elysium’s flaw is not allowing the audience to absorb the “We Are The 99%” ALLEGORY on its premise alone. The film seems to beat you over the head with it over and over again. So much so, the last three minutes become a montaged commercial for financial equality. Now, I know what you’re thinking. District 9 is also based on the huge ALLEGORICAL message of racial inequality and South African apartheid. However, I believe District 9’s documentary style and alien creatures mask that film’s message a bit smoother than Elysium. Elysium suffers from not being able to sugarcoat what it wants to say. Thus, distracting from and sadly short-changing all the things great about it. And trust me, there is a lot of great here. The world building is strong. The acting is solid. And the action is tremendously outstanding.
It always floors me how Blomkamp seems to make every action scene he does original, gritty and exciting. No one does a clusterf%*k action scene like Neill Blomkamp. NO! NO! Not Michael Bay. Bay’s action direction, admittedly one of the few things he does well, is hyper-stylized. Blomkamp’s action direction feels out of control. Out of control in a good way. You feel exhausted after each crazy entanglement Blomkamp puts you through. Did you forget that mech suit battle in District 9? His fights are sloppy, unpredictable, harrowing and great. Elysium is no different in this regard. The fighting style of the exosuits, the spaceship crashes, the corridor battles, the desert plain assaults. They are all amazing. Blomkamp also flexes his muscles again in the futuristic tech department. He seems to always know how to introduce and use unique weapons and technologies just enough so we buy them as an audience, but not get bored of them. Sanctimonious self indulgent statement here but…THEY DIDN’T WANT THIS GUY TO DO HALO!!! DAMN IT!!! Sorry. It always bothers me.
As stated before, the performances are solid. Matt Damon, while not breaking any new ground here, is still his usual charismatic self. Jodie Foster playing a baddie always seems to vibe with me. Though, her accent is a tad inconsistent. A joyfully over the top performance by actor Wagner Moura as Spider also entertains. However, there is one actor that steals EVERY SINGLE scene he is in. One performance that people will talk about when they talk about Elysium. And that is Sharlto Copley. I was partially avoiding any spoilery trailers leading up to this film’s release. This led to my surprise when I saw Copley was in Elysium as much as he is. He’s Blomkamp’s boy, so it makes all the sense in the world. However, he isn’t really promoted as much as he should be. The guy completely owns this film. After his role as the psychotic Kruger and his apparently terrific performance in Spike Lee’s Old Boy, Copley has got to be a star on the rise.
Elysium is another strong sci-fi follow-up from Neill Blomkamp. Its only sin is a slight difficulty to get out of the way of its own ALLEGORICAL message. If you aren’t prone to eye rolling from preachiness or a registered Republican, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Even if you are, you’ll still be entertained. Suit up…be careful of hand grenades to the face…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.