Back in 2009 Neill Blomkamp made his feature film debut with ‘District 9’, a low budget indie marvel. Four years on the budget has increased and out comes ‘ELYSIUM’ a similarly set up to ‘District 9’ tale but with more a George Orwell rebel-against-a-monolithic-state model. While I knew that ‘District 9’was very good, I initially never really liked it until recently, which got me looking forward to see what he could produce next with ‘Elysium’. On paper it sounds fairly provocative for a big budget Hollywood summer blockbuster. It’s presented as a ‘old school’ 1980’s/1990’s sci-fi made for adults, mixing inspiration from ‘Robocop’, ‘Aliens’,’ Johnny Mnemonic’ and ‘Total Recall’ (even if aesthetically designed on vehicles from the 2012 one). It has the interesting views of being unashamedly being in favour of Illegal immigration and socialised medicine with a plot boiling down to sick third-world people desperate to crash into a luxurious superpower (really America). So it hits me that a Hollywood film like this could be something rather profound.
Instead what we get here is a rather ‘’dumbed down’’, and ‘’straight forward’’ sci-fi action film. The thing is present these issues, but never seems to explore them, just merely mentioning them. This is a shame as there is so much potential to say something here. Instead you can’t help but thing is some type of vessel for Hollywood propaganda just saying “Support the third world”, which is fine – I’m not against it or anything but when it the only vocal point to these themes, you really feel like they are playing it safe, hence why I mention it being ‘’dumbed down’’ in nature. In fact you start to notice it when you start to wonder what’s going on with Jodie Foster (underused here) voice. Her words don’t seem to go with her mouth movements bringing an almost badly dubbed look to it. It is a mystifying achievement which because of themes not being strong enough, becomes the only really sense of intrigue to the film. Again on paper and in its marketing is comes across provocative but it really isn’t. I think this is because it’s more a studio film, with a larger budget then that of ‘District 9’, and with a larger budget, it does mean a decrease in creative control for Blomkamp, which often does feel the case.
Aesthetically it’s beautiful. Blomkamp’s love of sci-fi weaponry is on show here and Syd Mead’s design of the Elysium fortress evokes ‘Blade Runner’. Its refreshingly violent as well, brought to the for front by Sharlto Copley’s Kruger, who character is very interesting indeed, and it’s nice to see William Fincher get some good screen time in there too. It’s just a shame Alice Braga is doing here usual mother role (see ‘I Am Legend’) is more (at times) sledgehammered annoyance. Matt Damon good though and I do like the title design which evokes ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ almost.
With the way it was marketed as a provocative sci-fi, this is rather underwhelming. Real haters on the IMDB board will be saying Blomkamp is a one trick pony and has lost it already, which I don’t think is the case. I think the trick is to go in to this film looking for something which isn’t as memorable then what it thinks it is, as you will enjoy it more.