In 2009, Neill Blomkamp announced his presence as director to watch with the outstanding “District 9.” Starring “Elysium” co-star Sharlto Copley, the thoughtful sci-fi actioner was so well received it garned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. There’s been a lot of excitement, especially among the fanboys, as to whether or not his second feature film “Elysium” will measure up to the greatness of Blomkamp’s debut.
The bad news is it doesn’t. The good news is that doesn’t mean “Elysium” is a bad film. Far from it. With the story of ex-con Max (Matt Damon) trying to get to Elysium, a space station for the super-rich, Blomkamp has set the stage for another insightful science fiction classic. Instead, “Elysium” opts to be more of an action film, with slow motion shots of things exploding and Matt Damon running around beating the crap out of bad guys wearing a cool exo-skeleton. There’s nothing wrong with that. On its own, “Elysium” is an above-average sci-fi action film. But the film is so similar in look and feel to “District 9” that it’s next to impossible to not compare the two. And compared to “District 9,” “Elysium” doesn’t measure up. At all.
There are bits of what could have been with “Elysium.” As a resident of the station, John Carlyle (William Fichtner) is forced to do business on earth, but refuses to be in the same room with its inhabitants without them covering their faces. An examination of rich vs. poor and the lengths the privileged will go to keep the rest of the world safe at bay runs throughout “Elysium,” but Blomkamp, especially in the film’s second half, instead focuses more on the action than any potential themes.
Don’t get me wrong, the action is exciting. The special effects, much like in “District 9,” are amazing. Damon as Max is a tough character not to root for and Copley has a blast playing the main villain Kruger. Jodie Foster, playing Elysium’s head of security and the only super-rich resident with normal contact with earth’s residents, feels a little too pent up with her emotions, much like the film itself. There’s so little interaction between the residents of Elysium and the people of earth that its difficult to know why the rich want nothing to do with earth’s citizens except that “wealthy people don’t like poor people.”
“Elysium” is a solid science fiction action film. But when someone as talented as Neill Blomkamp is behind the camera, you can’t help but feel disappointed in the final product. Blomkamp is capable of so much more than “Elysium,” and that’s what ultimately makes the film feel like a letdown, even though in reality it isn’t.