MOVIE REVIEW: Elysium

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Elysium is the new science fiction film from South African writer, producer and director Neill Blomkamp.  His last film was the excellent District 9 which was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2010 including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing.  Time magazine named him one of the “100 Most Influential People of 2009”.  Elysium is his long awaited follow-up and re-unites him with many of his District 9 crew including his longtime friend and actor Sharlto Copley.  The film stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Copley with support coming from William Fichtner, Diego Luna, and Alice Braga.  Elysium is being released in both conventional and IMAX Digital theaters.

The year is 2154 and Earth is grossly overpopulated and diseased.  A utopian-like space station known as Elysium has been built for the ultra wealthy to live on, while the rest of humanity is suffering on Earth.  There are many attempts from those stuck on Earth to infiltrate Elysium, but due to very strict anti-immigration laws anyone caught trying to enter will either be killed or shipped back to Earth.  Max DeCosta (Damon) is an ex-con who is trying to make the most of his life on Earth and stay out of trouble.  He is exposed to a large amount of radiation at his factory job and is given only five days to live, so he must find a way to Elysium in order to be cured.  His plan is to steal the identity of John Carlyle (Fichtner), the owner of the factory he works at, and hijack his ship.  Little does Max know, but Carlyle has just uploaded all of the security codes and reboot information for Elysium into his memory the same day Max steals it.  Max must now get to Elysium before his time runs out in order to be healed and to change the entire system.  Standing in his way is Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Foster) and her secret undercover agent Kruger (Copley), who will stop at nothing to preserve their citizens’ lifestyle.

This being the follow-up to Blomkamp’s critically acclaimed movie, District 9, the expectations for Elysium were through the roof.  What he was able to do in District 9 with a modest budget and relatively unknown cast was very impressive to say the least.  Here he has a much bigger budget and some major star power to work with, but the end result doesn’t seem nearly as fresh or ground-breaking.  Elysium definitely has a similar feel in style to District 9 in that there are number of strange camera angles with ultra close-ups and also some very shaky camera movements.  The idea behind the story is to examine society by exploring some of today’s controversial themes such as poverty, health care, immigration, and social classes.  These issues are identified and addressed in Elysium, but I’m not convinced that they are really developed.  For a movie that is almost two hours long and has so much to say about today’s society, it really didn’t say anything.  A good portion of the movie is setting up these big events that are supposed to take place on Elysium, but by the time these events occur, everything seemed rushed and the movie was over.  That’s not to say the movie wasn’t entertaining, I was just left wanting and expecting more.  As for the cast, Matt Damon is excellent as always, but seemed a bit miscast to me.  He is such a familiar actor and seemingly all-around good guy, that I had a hard time viewing him as a hardened criminal.  Speaking of miscasting, Jodie Foster just didn’t fit at all in this movie.  Ever since her rant at last years Golden Globes, I see her in such a different light.  I think she is an incredible actress, but brought nothing to this role and was a negative to the film.  The lone bright spot from an acting perspective is Sharlto Copley.  I’m convinced that he can do no wrong.  He is given a juicy part and is as funny as he is terrifying.  That said, Elysium doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and was a bit of a letdown, but it’s still a fairly entertaining movie.  I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to the theater to see it, but it’s definitely worth a look on DVD.

Grade: C+

Elysium opens in theaters on Friday, August 9.

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