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Film Review: Elysium

Is it really better up there?

Writer and director Neil Blomkamp, the filmmaker behind 2009’s surprise hit District 9, lends his vision for a dystopian future in his latest film: Elysium.

Elysium takes place in the year 2154. Earth has become an overpopulated wasteland and the rich have fled to their utopia in space: a giant space station named Elysium. It is a beautiful world and complete opposite of the overcrowded and severely polluted planet Earth. The entire station is a beautiful green landscape with no pollution, no crime, and no poverty. Above all else, Elysium’s citizens enjoy the benefit of advanced healthcare technology that almost guarantees its citizens immortality.

This utopian paradise and all its benefits are what motivates Max (played by Matt Damon) to fight his way up to Elysium. Standing in his way is Elysium’s Defense Secretary Rhodes (played by Jodie Foster), who has made it her duty to both protect Elysium and stop any trespassers by whatever means at her disposal. It is this cold attitude that leads her to recruit Agent Kruger (played by Sharlto Copley), a vicious and savage soldier, who pursues Max with homicidal conviction.

Property of Sony Pictures Entertainment
Property of Sony Pictures Entertainment

This is the type of movie you would come to expect from Blomkamp: a science-fiction action movie with political undertones and moral dilemma. Elysium and Los Angeles obviously represent the growing divide between rich and poor meanwhile residents of Earth risk their lives to illegally travel to Elysium to take advantage of its exclusive and revolutionary healthcare (a clear a reference to current immigration issues). These political undertones are quite obvious and not creatively constructed. And to top it all off, there is a severe lack of moral tension in the characters decisions and actions.

Blomkamp does do a good job of setting a good pace to keep the audience interested throughout the film. The story does not become slow or listless at any point. The action sequences are quite good but suffer from some questionable decisions in cinematography and editing. There are moments where you are engrossed with Max and Kruger engaged in combat only to be distracted by what appears to be the camera having a seizure.  And it is no help that the score does little to add to suspense and bears an eerie resemblance to the infamous gong noise from Inception.

Then there is the performance of the actors themselves. Damon does nothing special to bring his character to life; his performance is adequate, and you would expect nothing less from the veteran and well respected actor. The same can be said for Jodie Foster. This can be partially attributed to basic character construction that doesn’t allow the actors or the actors portraying them to be dynamic. Everyone is developmentally and morally stagnant. However, Sharlto Copley manages to shine in his role as the maniacal Agent Kruger despite the fact that Kruger is clearly not written to his fullest potential.

Property of Sony Pictures Entertainment
Property of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Overall Elysium feels very much like District 9 without the creativity or depth. It is almost impossible not to compare the two films because their plots mirror each other: both protagonists are afflicted with a progressively worsening sickness; both are fighting against a corrupt antagonist who seeks to use something the protagonist possesses for personal gain; both do battle in futuristic exoskeleton armor; both make a heroic sacrifice at the movie’s end.

Blomkamp obviously played it safe with a formula that worked before. The end product is entertaining but feels like something you have watched before. Stand alone, it is one of the more entertaining films of the summer. But sadly it does nothing to set itself apart from its filmmaker’s previous work or other science-fiction cinema.

It probably isn’t better up there after all.

Grade: C+

Elysium – Official Full Trailer

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Aaron Zamora

Aaron grew up in Whittier, California and is currently finishing his master's degree in Human Communication studies from California State University, Fullerton. His interest in journalism began in high school where he served as the Editor-in-Chief for his school’s newspaper and participated in their inaugural broadcast journalism program. An avid world traveler, Aaron has a wide array of interest that include a passion for cinema and television. He is also a sports fanatic.

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