I have surprisingly managed to get out to the local multiplex cinema to catch one of the movies that I personally have been waiting for now since around the begining of the year if not before. There was a point when I was not too bothered, maybe didn’t realise it to be the new film from Neill Blomkamp, director of the similar and amazingly fresh sci-fi flick District 9 only a few years back. There was also the matter of the lead actor in this new mysterious space epic being Matt Damon, who does not always blow my mind on screen it has to be noted. It is only in more very recent times when I have begun to give him more of a fair chance, and he can be great, but it can possibly be due to the screenplay of the particular film.
There have been a number of newspaper and magazine reviews that I devoured quickly prior to seeing this SF big screen modern space age epic. Being an author of science fiction tales fairly similar in tone and style to how this film and District 9 seem, I was hoping it really might be a fantastic film, as were many others since District 9 has in the last four or so years gained an increasing and respectful fanbase and many wishing Blomkamp would provide something as radically new and gripping and his previous movie.
I also want to point out that before the film started, we were given the new trailers for three similar possibly great 2013 sci-fi flicks-RIDDICK and Gravity, and Ender’s Game all due in the next few months. Could the build up and geek excitement get any more fever-like?
So even from early trailers, we knew that Elysium did hold an obviously similar visual style to District 9, seeming to build upon it and move further in even more bold and colossal ways.
From the simple narrative begining set up, we meet Damon as Max, a once troublesome low level street criminal, but with some degree of honest and compassionate feelings, who is working simply in a depressingly grey and soul-sucking factory building robot parts. It is these robots who keep down and opress him and all his fellow people on the neglected and ruined earth, while the richest and luckiest souls live many miles out in space in the vast Elysium space station. The majority live in filth and dirt, with little hope or joy below.
Generally the plot is kept fairly simple, which is actually fine as it we watch some honest very spectacular and awesome images of the Elysium space station, the patrol robots, the ruined slum towns of future LA and many space craft flying around. These again, like District 9 are some of the most striking and bracing science fiction visuals on screen in recent times.
Characterization might not be as satisfying as it could be, be thankfully Matt Damon really does seem to fit the part very well, his regular ‘every-man’ common joe type so suitable for this movie. Trying to forget the desperate and agressive crimes of his earlier youth, his wants to just get by with honest if constantly unsatisfying factory work. Soon enough he is picked on, beaten, warned by his boss, and eventually in the most desperate and dangerous situation.
With barely any serious reason left to remain straight and honest, he goes to seek help from old criminal gang friends. A job is offered, a seriously deathly suicidal job, in exchange for a ticket to Elysium where he can heal himself. His time is desperately running out.
Then the movie races along, keeping things simple, yet chases and wild action sequences one after another. The frenetic hand-held camerawork conbined with the state-of-the-art CG robots and space craft imagery just keep us right inside this desperate dangerous future ruined world, with Jodie Foster as a truly vile and nasty corrupted politician up on Elysium watching Max, and the highly unstable and shockingly sadistic mercenary she sends to catch him.
Again, as some had noted, Blomkamp does still reflect real world political and ethical tensions like South African Aparthied but I actually did feel that with this film he moved more widely to commenting on the increasing social and financial divides of our current world.
There are some suddenly nasty and bloodily graphic scenes, which reminded me of the original Total Recall movie or Robocop for sci-fi splatter on screen. Like District 9, this is generally justified and matches the almost documentary ‘found-footage’ cinema verite style of direction from Blomkamp. And as he is dealing with depicting such tragic and desperate extremes of future living, this kind of violence works and is thankfully then balanced well with a number of genuinely touching scenes of hope, loss and affection between Max his childhood sweetheart and her little girl.
Yes, many have praised the film up until the last half hour or so, where like Man of Steel and arguably IRON MAN 3 too, it just comes down to a repetitive bash and knockabout smack-down between good guy and super-evil guy. It basically is just that, but the journey all the way to that ending sequence is great and largely satisfying enough that it does not really spoil the entire film. There are other characters, many people depicted, some unresolved tensions, though the ending is fairly obvious though still a good enough way to close things.
Yes, this really is probably the most stunning and vast space opera action science fiction film of this year, and I do recommend that if sci-fi is your thing in the slightest way, go get to this movie very soon.