With director Neil Blomkamps debut, District 9, the South African sci-fi enthusiast immediately became the man to watch in the industry. It’s surprising then that it took a full four years for his follow-up, Elysium, to arrive. This time with a much larger stack of cash at his disposal and big name stars such as Matt Damon and Jodie Foster it was intriguing to see what he could do under pressure. Elysium is a new space station that floats above the world homing the rich and powerful humans while the poor suffer in slums on the polluted and dangerous Earth. Damon plays Max a former car thief who’s trying to earn an honest living is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. When he is given five days to live he makes it his mission to find a way to Elysium in order to be healed but in return for his ticket up there he must retrieve some intel which could effectively bring down the evil rich folk of Elysium and save the world’s poor and struggling people.
The film bear a number of similarities to District 9, in particular it’s ideas and message about segregation. It’s depiction of poverty stricken life has the same feel, it’s ultimately a feeling of empathy that arises from Blomkamp’s film, he clearly cares for these people who are forced to do what they can to survive. And it echoes the problems of apartheid within SA as well. However, Elysium, is a much less direct film overall in terms of it’s message. Although it’s message is loud and clear this film isn’t ashamed to be a popcorn flick. While it is still a much more raw and brutal sci-fi than the majority of summer blockbusters, it does have flashes of Hollywood gloss to it, particular the love story sub plot that forms Max’s emotional drive to want to save the world but also leaves some questions unanswered about how much of a hero our protagonist really is. Before he realises how much he cares for this love interest his main goal is just to heal himself without any regard for saving the rest of the world. But then it’s this kid of inner conflict within the characters that makes Elysium a cut above the rest. While it may have these elements to draw in the mainstream it refuses to completely bow down to the usual conventions of those elements making it a film that deserves to be well received.
One of the summer’s more entertaining blockbusters that proves Blomkamp’s unique cinematic voice. A lot more grit than most is to be found but there is overall a feeling that Elysium is a more hollow effort than District 9. But nevertheless a promising, enjoyable follow-up that proves Blomkamp can be a breath of fresh air in the industry.