Neil Blomkamp surprised us all with his outstanding debut, District 9. What he managed to do on a small(ish) budget was astounding and he showed himself as one of the brightest sparks in sci-fi film making. His follow up, Elysium, sees him with an A-list cast and a much bigger budget. Does it live up to it's promise?
Well yes and no.
On one hand, yes: Neil Blomkamp has delivered another gritty, social-realistic science fiction film that has abundance of class and style. Visually the film is quite stunning and it has some great cinematography when it comes to the larger shots. The CGI effects are excellent and blend in well with the environment. The Earth of the film looks very gritty, believable and lived-in and the space station Elysium has this very sterile and futuristic look to it. You could really buy it that Earth could look like this with many decades of neglect and poverty. Everything's in disrepair and in decline. The action in this film is quite intense and it looks very impressive at times. The exoskeletons were fun and looked convincing.
Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley (who was also in District 9) is an absolutely fantastic character. He's sadistic, unhinged and one of the only interesting characters in the film.
On the other hand, no: the other characters are one-dimensional. Matt Damon's Max is generic and ridiculously inconsistent. Sometimes he's the hero and other times he doesn't want to know. Disappointingly, the brilliant Jodie Foster has a smaller part than I thought she would and she's not at all fleshed out.
Secondly, I didn't feel like the themes of the film go as deep as they could have done. Unlike District 9, which themes go way deeper with the Apartheid, the themes of Elysium only touch the surface. Questioning our handling with immigration, military power, our health care more carefully and precisely could have lifted this film to the levels of District 9, but alas it doesn't and it feels tacked-on.
I actually really liked the ending to the film, as well. It was different and didn't fit with the usual 'summer blockbuster' mould. However, because of the generic characters it left me feeling a lot colder than I would have felt had I liked the characters I was supposed to.
All in all, the film has decent action with absolutely gorgeous visuals and it moves along at a good pace. Sadly the writing, the plot and the characters aren't that interesting and it's hard to get emotionally invested in this film. It's watchable and probably quite entertaining if you're in the proper mood for it.
This film also proves that Blomkamp has an outstanding touch for sci-fi and it's genuinely refreshing to watch an original science fiction film, with interesting ideas. Bring on Blomkamp's next film!