South African writer director Niell Blomkamp released District 9 a few years ago. If you didn’t see it – stop reading and go rent it now. It was amazing.
Let me clarify that “amazing”. It was smart, slick, well directed, well-acted, had great effects, creepy, weird, somber, and more than a little upsetting. A giant spaceship arrives to hover over Johannesburg, then appears to break down, stranding the crew inside who are then treated as second-class invaders by the local populace. The story is very smart, and has some really big over-arching themes that run through the entire movie. District’s 9 theme is segregation, racism, and class-wars, fitting to come from a South-African writer/director - so of course, it feels very close to a serious apartheid discussion.
That same tone fits Blomkamp’s new piece, Elysium, except this time, the theme seems to be immigration and class-wars.
Max is a regular guy in the distant future where earth as become a third-world planet. Over populated and polluted, it can barely support those live on it. The super-wealthy have left the planet to live on a huge orbiting space station called Elysium (it’s similar to the SkyHooks over Coruscant if you’re familiar with them – except it’s an orbiting space station, not an attached super-fancy house). They have personal med-bays that eliminate all diseases, giant houses, huge lawns, and fantastic swimming pools. Occasionally the director of homeland security (or some department like that) has to shoot down ships of people from earth who are trying to illegally land on Elysium to take advantage of the medical treatments, and general nice-ness of the place. Max is a newly reformed car thief who is just trying to keep up with his job on an assembly line. There’s an accident at work, he gets hit with a massive dose of radiation (in the future we’re using massive doses of radiation to make robots?), and will die in 5 days. Unless, of course, he can get up to Elysium with a valid citizenship tattoo and make it to a Med-bay. That sounds fairly simple, but he also has to deal with a couple of criminals, his Elysiumian boss Carlyle, a vicious South African mercenary, and his childhood sweetheart’s sick daughter.
This movie is smart and fairly fast paced (kudos on the run-time, just about perfect). It is somber and somewhat depressing with some fantastic action sequences mixed in. It does feel very much like District 9, which is a good thing. The story is fascinating, and feels very much like it could happen any day now. The believability is upped by the great cast:
- Matt Damon is always more talented than you think he is (check his villain in School Ties again). I have always preferred him in action movies, and he does a great job in this. His portrayal of a guy who really just wants to stay on the right path makes sense. Once he gets hurt, he focuses on making himself better, and has no interest in ‘saving the world’ even when that opportunity presents itself. Damon is fairly quiet and understated, letting the movie move around him. I was very impressed with him in this. Not sure about the shaved head though.
- Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, the aforementioned head of Elysium-land Security. I have to say, of everyone in the movie, I was the least happy with her performance. She seemed to be very wooden, which might have fit the character, but often seemed awkward. Also – she seemed to be doing an odd accent that didn’t really make sense. Maybe it was an Elysium-ese accent? I suppose no one could argue her choice there.
- Sharlto Copley, who seems to be Blomkamp’s muse (he was fantastic and creepy and off-putting in District 9) is crazy and creepy and off-putting in this. He plays the mercenary who is hired to go after Max once Max accidentally steals something he should not have. There is a bizarre scene in which half of Copley’s face gets blown off (seriously) and his cohorts giggle about how pissed off he’s going to be about that once he wakes up from his Med-Bay stay. I didn’t need the close up of half his head.
- Alice Braga plays Frey. I last saw her in the under-rated Predators, but she was also in I Am Legend and RedBelt. She is tough and feisty, and determined to get Max to save her daughter, even though he’s really only looking to save himself. She doesn’t have much to do, but she certainly is capable in the scenes she’s got.
- Diego Luna (Contrabnad, Milk, The Terminal and Y Tu Mama Tambien) plays Julio, who seems to be Max’s only friend. He’s all about picking Max’s brain for car-stealing tips (you live in junk pile, why steal a car? Who is using them and who else is buying stolen cars?) Luckily, he happens to be hanging out in the street (or the path between two junk piles) when Max stumbles home after his accident. Lucky again – he also knows how to get Max in to see the one guy who can help him get up to Elysium.
- Wagner Moura’s Spider is that guy. He’s running all the illegal Elysium-jumping and helps Max out by getting him the citizen tattoo he’ll need to activate a Med-Bay as well as that crazy Exo-skeleton suit that will help make him super-strong to fight any random mercenaries he encounters. I may be wrong in this, but it felt like all of his dialogue was ADRed, or dubbed in. It drove me a little crazy every time he showed up and his words didn’t quite match his mouth.
- William Fichtner steals as much of this movie as he possibly can as the super-fancy John Carlyle. He’s a man who lives on Elysium, but works on earth and travels back and forth in the fanciest little pod ever. He also sports several of the decorative scars (or maybe tattoos? Some sort of marking) that the Elysium residents have taken to giving themselves. That was fascinating, but never mentioned. Keep an eye out for it when watching the movie. Fichtner is great – always.
- Faran Tahir, the man who should have been the Mandarin, plays President Patel. He seems to be in this movie mostly to be yelled at by Jodie Foster. He does a pretty good job of that.
The movie is fascinating, somewhat original, and really well-done. I can’t call it entertaining and certainly not fun – it was too somber for that. I did enjoy it, but will probably not watch it again, and that's the same way I felt about District 9 - although I felt like that was way more brilliant.
8 out of 10 – Gained points for Fichtner, he always results in points. I think the only points the Lone Ranger got were because of him. Lost points because of the half of Sharlto’s head I had to look at. Gained points for the robot police. Lost points for the robot police randomly beating people. Gained points for those weird decorative tattoos or scars that Elysiumians have, but then lost points for not talking about them. Gained points for how fancy Elysium looks! I’d love to live there. Lost points for making me realize I would not be able to afford it, and would have to live on the junk pile left on earth.
Bonus Video 1: Predators – I enjoyed this movie, even though many did not. Alice Braga was very cool, and Laurence Fishburne plays crazy. I mean, really crazy.
Bonus Video 2: the A-Team. Copley less creepy – but still crazy as “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock. I could do with another one of these. I suppose Rampage is too busy humping female reporters (seriously, that happened on camera), Neeson’s too busy preventing things from being Taken (yes, they’re supposedly making another one), and Cooper is too busy being pompous and pretentious. Oh well. You can watch old episodes of the TV show on Hulu-Plus.
Bonus Video 3: Dogma – the best Kevin Smith movie? And the one with the most Matt Damon, when they were still Ben-n-Matt.
Bonus Video 4: Euro Trip – the best Matt Damon cameo, and there have been a lot. This one is a little Damon and Kristen Kreuk.
Bonus Video 5: Cast Interviews.