By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editor
Have you ever seen that science fiction movie centered on a dilapidated, dystopian Earth sometime in the late 21st or 22nd century? You know, the one with the dichotomous society consisting of a secluded wealthy population and an impoverished lower class whom the rich despise? The film where someone from that lower class tries to find his or her place amongst the privileged?
No, not “Total Recall.” Not “Children of Men” or “Oblivion.” Or “In Time,” if you actually saw that “movie.” And no… not “Wall-E.”
“Elysium” is the 2013 edition of the above films, but don’t interpret this as an underhanded slight. Indeed, the latest Matt Damon vehicle is arguably a carbon copy of a tried-and-true sci-fi premise, but the film somehow manages to look nearly as crisp as the original execution of the concept.
The aforementioned duality of society is indeed blatant, making moviegoers aware that humans have been separated by their socioeconomic status quite quickly. Those fortunate enough to earn residence on Elysium, an extravagant space station hovering just outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, also earn a welcome escape from the violent turmoil found on the planet below their feet.
This time around, the catalyst for the ultimate downfall of Earth wasn’t nuclear war, a viral outbreak or Terminators. Instead, overpopulation forced humanity to flee. Robots act as police in the rundown cities that used to comprise the United States. What’s worse is that the residents of Elysium have a virtual monopoly over advanced technology, including medical bays that have the capability to cure literally any ailment.
With such a marvelous world above him, ex-thief and factory employee Max Da Costa (Damon) obviously has to reach Elysium somehow. But he doesn’t have to reach Elysium until he comes in contact with a lethal level of radiation while at work.
The medical pods on Elysium being his only alternative to a grim demise, Max attempts to arrange for illegal transportation through a smuggler by the name of Spider.
All Max has to do to earn his seat on the next shuttle to Elysium is steal a program that can override and restart the central computer of Elysium, effectively allowing any information to be modified.
Once Max gets suited in a robotic exoskeleton, the fight to reach Elysium ensues. With his loved ones and his life at stake, few humans on Earth are in as dire need to reach the floating utopia as Max is.
There’s no denying that “Elysium” rides quite heavily on the topical themes which permeate our society and flood CNN’s airwaves on a daily basis. Societal rifts, immigration and health care are clearly part of the conversation the film is trying to have with audiences. “Elysium” manages to excel at weaving these themes into the lush, fully-realized settings without hitting viewers over the head with tired political discussions.
Damon invests himself into his role remarkably, as per usual. While not the most complex or fascinating hero, Max is still made all the more likeable and relatable due to Damon’s undeniable charisma.
Both antagonists, Elysium’s cold, calculating Security of Defense (Jodie Foster) and ruthless mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) are certainly noteworthy aspects of a film whose genre is not typically balanced on the acting prowess of the cast.
While both are vicious in their own right, Foster embraces a stony demeanor that suits her perfectly. Copley’s performance is downright supercharged, with Kruger tearing through scenes with relentless furor.
Director Neill Blomkamp, having worked with Copley on 2009’s Best Picture-nominee “District 9,” utilizes his cast’s talent well and juxtaposes Earth and Elysium masterfully.
Aside from the fact that Blomkamp may or may not have made any attempt to make the ruins of Los Angeles look any different than the streets of Johannesburg from “District 9,” there are a few subtle similarities between the two films that are hard to ignore.
The issues of illegal immigration and class segregation are present in both, but when each film address the topics so effectively, how could this possibly be a problem? Both movies delicately juggle themes of identity and the meaning of being human, with protagonists that undergo physical transformations during their journeys.
“Elysium” is the perfect example of a somewhat formulaic screenplay being brought to surprising heights by a more-than-capable director.
But fine, maybe you saw the ending coming from a mile away. Perhaps you forgot every single character’s name immediately upon exiting the theater. And yes, “Elysium” is visually and thematically similar to Blomkamp’s other major release.
However, in light of some summer blockbuster letdowns, “Elysium” delivers a satisfying sci-fi flick with substance.