Ever since I saw District 9, the sci-fi thriller released in 2009, I have desperately craved a sequel or at least another film directed by Neill Blomkamp. Elysium was announced in early 2011, but the obsession over its August arrival began at the beginning of this summer. I’m an avid Tumblr blogger, and I have to admit, the only reason I joined the social-media website was to feed my hunger for District 9 and share my obsession over every actor, director, cultural impact and all-in-all breakdown of the movie. When the people I followed and tags I tracked began raving over the second film by Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley, I was hooked. Before the movie even premiered, I had read enough reviews, seen enough screenshots, watched enough interviews and researched production and actor background to know exactly what to expect in every aspect of the film—except for the well-guarded plot details.
On August 8, I finally saw Elysium’s premiere at a local theater with a few friends and my movie-geek father. We arrived about an hour early, but the wait seemed like forever. First lingering outside and candy-buying, then lingering inside the empty theater (of course, it was almost full by the time the movie actually started), hanging around the lobby on a movie-poster hunt (sadly, no posters were available for this fangirl), then previews, and finally it began.
Elysium portrays a dystopian future set in 2154. Lower-middle class people live on a rundown Earth, and the wealthiest 1% live on a space station, a manmade paradise complete with swimming pools, giant houses, greenery, wildlife and great healthcare. Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), an Earth-dwelling factory worker, dreams of getting up to Elysium with his childhood friend, Frey (Alicia Bragg). But the people of Elysium don’t want worthless immigrants using their healthcare. That’s where the coldhearted Elysium officials come in, to protect the people and hide the discrimination and inhumane treatment of any outsiders who attempt to enter the Elysium airspace. Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster), head of Elysium protection, fights against the immigration using brutal tactics, such as her top agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley!!!). Max’s mission is to hack into the Elysium system and allow non-Elysian access to medical care, for himself as well as Frey’s daughter.
Neill Blomkamp, the South African director of Elysium, only recently came to light in the world of cinema with the release of District 9. Besides making use of absolutely stunning CGI graphics and animation, Blomkamp is a one-of-a-kind sci-fi enthusiast with tactics and styles that will impact the art of summer-blockbusters and sci-fi galore forever. Elysium is an example of his attention to detail. He doesn’t just build a set to throw a scene into, but works opposite, building a world that’s incredibly realistic, accurately depicting culture and human life, and creating a plot around that. His general idea of human mutation or transformation combines his view of people, both in anatomy and humans as a race, with advanced, technology and/or other creatures (like aliens). Blomkamp’s backdrops are grungy, slum-like settings overlaid by futuristic technology. The squalor of shanty towns complete with graffiti, dirt, blood, rust, trash and miserable human (or alien) inhabitants is partnered with unbelievable weapons and robots.
One thing lacking in District 9 that makes Elysium all the more spectacular is a good old-fashioned villain. I nominate Kruger, the South African militia-based character, as the greatest bad guy of all time. Kruger is the violent, horrifying, gruesome and all-around creepy psychopath who hunts down Max. He’s absolutely terrifying, riveting whenever he is on screen. A fantastic performance by Blomkamp’s film-partner and long-time friend, Sharlto Copley. Playing the star in District 9, Copley basically invented Wikus Van De Merwe on-screen, improving every line the entire movie, quite a feat for his first big acting gig. Never before setting foot in front of the camera (except in several short films), he proved you don’t need to be a professional to be an incredible actor. His insane natural talent and character work makes Kruger a one-of-a-kind in Elysium. He blows away every scene he’s in, with his exotic Afrikaans accent and fiery, violent nature. He was certainly the most distinct character and greatest performance in the movie (sorry, Matt). In a few years’ time, the rising star’s name will probably become very well-known in Hollywood.
Matt Damon is an outstanding actor, don’t get me wrong. But the downside to Elysium is the lack of strong characters. I thought, besides Kruger (who was, like Wikus, an invention of Copley’s), many of the Elysium characters are rather two-dimensional, despite the starry cast. Even Max isn’t as creative or original as Kruger. This inconsistency may be one of Blomkamp’s directing flaws, perhaps, but every director has them. Despite the lack of depth and the film’s poor dialogue, Matt did his best and brought enough life to Max to make him as enjoyable to watch as an otherwise dull character can be. Jodie Foster, too, clearly represented the Elysian attitude and motivation in Secretary Delacourt’s character. With her almost-robotic voice and passion for Elysium protection, she is at least somewhat more lovable than Kruger (but who wouldn’t be?).
I was a bit traumatized by the violence and gore in Elysium. People get shot, people explode, faces blow up, and faces are restored with Elysium’s ridiculous technology (spoiler: I will probably never be able to forget seeing Sharlto’s pretty face in a fleshy, mushy, bloody heap on top of his body, and then the every tiny chunk of his blown-up face molding back together as if being melted in reverse). I left the theater, speechless, blown away by the incredible CGI, intensity of the film, Copley’s performance, District 9 nostalgia and shockingly disgusting graphics (that many of you may remember from District 9; a notable Blomkamp element). But I also left quite inspired. Although I am merely a review and fanfiction writer, I would absolutely love to work with film and directing one day. Elysium made me feel as if that dream were possible, I left in a daze. Elysium is a cinematic masterpiece with its intense science fiction elements and stunningly beautiful (and quite believable) visuals that will knock you off your feet. Blomkamp accomplished something similar to what Guillermo del Toro was aiming for: action, a good plot and an edge-of-your-seat thrilling experience.
I would like to see Sharlto Copley in more of his movies. He brings a heart and depth that Neill Blomkamp otherwise has a hard time accomplishing. As a cinematic duo, Copley and Blomkamp can deeply impact the art of Hollywood film.
Image above designed by Sharm Murugiah