(Originally posted at The Hollywood News)
After taking both critics and the box office by storm with his steaming debut District 9 – a film whose heavy socio-political themes were evened out by a refreshing sense of style and humour, director Neill Blomkamp makes a welcome return with sophomore project Elysium, a worthy if not wholly effective follow up. Similar to D9, which, for the most part, managed to blend the tropes of the alien-invasion movie with contemporary and socially relevant commentary concerning apartheid, Blomkamp infuses his latest with a similar amount of allegorical rumination, only this time it’s bolstered by both a significantly larger budget and a more polemical stance on class regimentation.
Elysium sees Blomkamp returning to the realm of science fiction to depict another tale of the disquiet between two distinct, and distinctly realised, societal worlds. In the year 2154, the planet is divided into two disparate constructs: an overpopulated, ruined Earth rife with squalor and moral decay, and the eponymous Elysium, a pristine man-made space station for the extremely wealthy looming above amongst the stars, its circular profile resembling a judging, restricted eye. As earth continues its slow descent into near total destruction fuelled by disorder, crime and poverty, its suffering inhabitants continually intend to seek refuge on its adjacent locale, which boasts an oasis of affluence and homes equipped with machines that have the ability to seamlessly cure every known disease and ailment.
Looking to bridge the gap between the two and bring equality to these worlds is Max (Matt Damon), a blue-collar worker who’s been saving all his life to finally move to Elysium. When events conspire to put Max on a steady road to his demise, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission that pits him against Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt (a prickly Jodie Foster) and her uncompromising determination to maintain the unspoilt nature of her beloved constructed planet. Battling insurmountable odds, Max finds that if he’s successful, he could bring about the protection of millions of people on Earth, as well as save his own life and the life of his childhood love and her terminally ill daughter.
Starting out in a similar fashion to District 9 and the way it introduced a serious premise lined by social commentary before immediately delving into the character’s quests to break artificial boundaries, Elysium makes good on the substance and inventiveness Blomkamp laid foundations for first time round. The larger scale allows him to flex his predilection for visual innovation; his perception of a dusty, future Earth drowning in squalor is believable, as is the ultra-sleek planes of Elysium, however nondescript it seems to be (the inhabitants are rarely seen, the identical houses seem constantly empty). Yet the film suffers from the director’s continuous trajectory and drive for exploring his various ambitions; the plot conceit is engaging and thought-provoking yet the themes regarding greed, corruption and a lopsided society become dormant once the narrative’s momentum picks up, a narrative that quickly becomes overcome with energetic, albeit generic, action.
The film appears imbalanced and rife with plot holes, which is strange for a filmmaker with such a precise way of constructing unfamiliar and extraordinary scenarios and environments. Yet it is boosted by an infectious imagination and first-rate casting, from Damon’s well-judged protagonist to Foster’s severe Delacourt, via D9 alumni Sharlto Copley’s vicious gun-for-hire operative Kruger, a startling alternative to the notable yet submissive Wikus Van De Merwe. As a director who strives to tell tales of grand sociological concepts that don’t seem heavy-handed, Blomkamp mostly succeeds however broad his brushstrokes tend to be, yet with Elysium he fashions an allegory that is exciting at first but ultimately says very little.