Neill Blomkamp suffered what any self-respecting director faced when making his second feature, the difficulty making a follow up to an acclaimed debut. Despite his own feelings that he failed the feature the general feeling towards his second feature Elysium is that it’s a much more interesting film than it got credit for.
Perhaps not helped that this was to be his follow up to wildly popular and award-winning science fiction metaphor District 9 which saw large aliens treated to the harsh segregation the South African director saw in his hometown. Elysium is a much bigger film than either that or his third feature Chappie, following a future in which the rich live in a space station – the titular Elysium – where med pods can cure their ills in minutes, while the poor live in abject squalor beaten down by oppressive robots by run by the elite.
Matt Damon is the kind of actor you can expect to be interested in this, he’s a humanitarian in his personal life, and the metaphor mixed with big science fiction action is clearly alluring although his Max Da Costa feels like the wrong fit for him. While he’s good as bone-crunching Bourne and in respected dramas, something doesn’t sit right with his casting as a poor working-class guy, perhaps that everyone around him appears to be Latinx, leaving you to wonder if maybe this role was better suited to a Latin American actor. Similarly, Jodie Foster as Elysium pioneer Jessica Delacourt is an odd fit too, while Foster can play the no-nonsense types her accent and general performance appears to have happened post-production making you wonder if she’s attempting a South African accent.
The film isn’t a failure, the evocation of the squalid livings of those on earth is an interesting one, and the gulf between health care and general life for those who are poor vs those who are wealthy is ample fodder for a science fiction film to draw on, and Blompkamp evokes the two worlds perfectly, he has a sense of location even when in space. He also has the ability to frame the visual effects in a way that appears like they’re captured in-camera, it has a rugged feel to it.
It helps that he enlists District 9’s Sharlto Copley as psychotic hitman Kruger to chew the scenery and offer a physical threat to our heroes when things take a turn for the action-y. It’s a case that the film is less than the sum of its parts, not quite being able to pull these big ideas and the money put into the film together, but that’s not entirely a bad thing, after all, no one ever hated a film for having too many ideas. Blomkamp clearly has a message about how the poor are treated and how the health care industry is essentially there to oppress, he’s just reached further than he can grasp.
With ideas and visuals like these, the failure of his Alien 5 feels all the more tragic.
Dir. Neill Blomkamp
Scr. Neill Blomkamp
Prd. Bill Block, Neill Blomkamp, Simon Kinberg
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna, Alice Braga, William Fichtner
DOP: Trent Opalach
Music: Ryan Amon
Country: United States
Runtime: 109 minutes