Elysium: How a Good Blockbuster Feels

Elysium is one of the few science fiction films that came out this summer that wasn’t Scientology propaganda (I’m looking at you, After Earth). I went in with high expectations and came out feeling wholly satisfied. Then again, it would be wrong not to predict a win for Neill Blomkamp (director of District 9 and protégé of Peter Jackson), who seems totally at home in the sci-fi genre.

You know the story with the scrapped Halo movie, right? (I promise this is relevant to Elysium). To sum up an extremely detailed story, the people and companies invested in the making of the video game movie screwed it up. Why? Money. One thing you might not have known, however, is that the project was originally pitched to Jackson, who handed it off to Blomkamp. From what I’ve seen of Blomkamp’s Halo work, it would’ve been spectacular. Although the movie fell apart, Blomkamp walked away with the budget and designs intended for Halo. So out of the death of that movie, he created District 9. But I have a feeling that some of those ideas were set aside for Elysium as well, as there are things that bear striking resemblance to the game—like the giant orbiting ring in the sky around the planet, the exo-suits, and the battle/beam rifles.

While it might seem copycatish, Elysium‘s Halo-like graphic design and cinematography is absolutely beautiful, and it makes this movie feel like a true blockbuster (What do you expect from a $115 million budget and recycled designs?). Even the sets in the polluted, dystopic Los Angeles of 2154, where most of the movie takes place, are well-crafted, and that’s saying something. Honestly, I could’ve spent two hours just staring at a paused screen whenever there was a closeup of Elysium (I don’t know what to call it. An orbiting ring? A moon? Wait, that’s no moon; it’s a space station). While we don’t get as much time viewing Elysium as we would like during the course of the movie’s plot, the juxtaposition of dirty Los Angeles and pristine Elysium fits the typical “dystopia” setting.

Like District 9Elysium tackles some heavy social topics amidst its sci-fi, action thriller. Immigration and health care seem to be the main two (You can always find more), both of which are current points of discussion within the U.S. The fact that Neill Blomkamp, who directed and wrote Elysium, made the decision to have the wealthy Elysium residents be mostly Caucasian and the inhabitants of Earth be mostly Hispanic is a testament to this social commentary. Blomkamp doesn’t throw race around haphazardly; he uses the imagery to make a point. Even more interesting was a scene where we saw several Elysium medical vehicles (with machines able to completely cure at least 20-30 patients at one time) sitting in a garage unused while people on Earth struggle to survive pollution, old age, and disease. What’s that I hear? It sounds like a debate about health care and socioeconomic status.

So Matt Damon. We haven’t seen him as an action hero since, what, the Bourne Trilogy? Surprisingly, he wasn’t the first choice for the role of Max. Blomkamp actually wanted Eminem—and let’s be honest, that would’ve been pretty awesome. Nevertheless, I thought Damon was perfect as the downtrodden, reformed criminal Max. And he got super ripped, too (You’re welcome, ladies). He played the “savior with a burden” well, coming across as both a total badass and the odd man out. Because we got to see some of Max’s past as an orphaned child dreaming about a better life on Elysium, it made his story that much more triumphant (and sad) when he finally got to Elysium to get immigration rights for the people of Earth.

And then there are the movie’s antagonists, Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley, who played the protagonist in District 9). Foster looked like a major ball-buster as Delacourt with her pale hair and white pantsuit. If this look wasn’t a purposeful representation of the Aryan race, then I quit movies. Delacourt was such an asshole, too, what with her attempts to overthrow the command of Elysium (Just when you thought Elysium was a “utopia,” there’s more social commentary). The only problem I had with Foster was that, while she normally has somewhat of a Southern drawl in real life, she tried to mask it with a haughty, WASP-y accent that didn’t work. In fact, I thought her voice had been voiced over at first—that’s how awful it was.

As the movie’s true villain, Kruger was a nice contrast to Max. Where Max only killed to protect (despite his tough guy exterior), Kruger was a cold-blooded, killing machine. It was refreshing, too, to see Copley play the crazed killer, as his character in District 9 was a clumsy but likable protagonist. And since killing was Kruger’s modus operandi, it made the moment he put on his exo-suit to fight Max more terrifying. I was actually surprised Kruger didn’t turn out to be an android or something robotic with how completely devoid of human emotion he was.

And on a final note: BLERG HANDHELD CAMERAS.

Overall, Elysium was a beautiful, sci-fi thriller with an interesting commentary on the topics of immigration and health care. Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley were exceptionally good, each of them adding depth to the film’s underlying insights into socioeconomic classes and government corruption. Out of all of the ridiculously bloated blockbusters I’ve seen this summer, this one stands out. Sure, the dystopia formula is not a new one, but I think part of the reason this movie seems so unique was because this screenplay was written by Blomkamp and not drawn from a book or the desire to remake or “sequelize” (I made that up, I know) a movie. It’s not perfect, but it has more substance than a lot of the action movies out there.

Elysium: A

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