Hollywood desperately needs to pay more attention to writer/director Neill Blomkamp. I know some have taken him into account with him first being announced as the director to the vaporware HALO film and after District 9 you think more would have looked at what this former Visual Effects/3D Animation graduate could bring to the table. That would be smart right?
Nope. Not in Hollywood where film budgets spiral out of control, blockbusters fail to live up to expectations constantly, and the studio execs cannot discover why they are losing money like water flowing out of a pasta strainer. I say this because Blomkamp took a meager (by Hollywood standards) budget of $30 Million dollars and crafted District 9 which looked and felt like a movie with four times the budget. He did it again with Elysium's $90 Million budget and the end result looked like it was hitting the upper 150-200 million range. The man knows HOW to utilize special effects for maximum effect, impact, and does not bust the budget doing so. He (Neill) can also craft relevant stories about issues of today all set in a familiar yet futuristic setting.
In Elysium we see the story of the very rich and everyone else. This has been a hot button debate in this country now for a few years and the movie is using this as the basic premise for a satisfying, visually stunning, and somewhat violent science fiction dramatic action film. The basics of this movie is the story of Max (Matt Damon) and Frey (Alice Braga) two childhood friends who grew up together in an orphanage in the slums of Los Angeles who dreamed about leaving the squalor of Earth for the pristine life in the orbiting space station Elysium. Max promises to do anything to take his friend away from this life and to a better one orbiting above Earth.
Cut ahead a few years and we see a grown Max as a man still living in squalor, working a job for a company that provides supplies to Elysium and trying to survive day to day with out violating his parole. Max went the criminal route while Frey went in another direction. Through an injury Max is once again reunited with Frey at a local hospital where she works as a nurse. Interspersed we are introduced to Jodie Foster's Delacourt (the Defense Secretary to Elysium) and how she handles problems of illegal entry into the wealthy paradise....by having them killed. She unleashes her undercover agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to dispatch the would be immigrants with a cold demeanor I have not seen her display in her film roles yet. Kruger reminded me of Marvel Comic's Kraven the Hunter in an exo-skeleton. He is ruthless, cunning, relentless and enjoys his job and position as apex predator amongst unknowing masses.
Moving ahead Max tragically becomes exposed to lethal doses of radiation while on the job and is given about five days to live. The company's owner and Elysium citizen John Carlyle (played by the horribly underrated William Fichtner) could care less and wants Max disposed of asap so he does not need to change out the linens in the medical bay (because that will cost money) and could not care about those lesser than him. So Max approaches a former criminal associate and immigrant runner named Spider (Wagner Moura) and offers a trade: a ticket to Elysium where he can be healed by their technology and he will do whatever Spider asks. Wouldn't you know Spider has a job lined up where they need a desperate person to complete it: to kidnap an Elysium high ranking citizen, download their neural data for any access codes, data, anything that they can use to get people to Elysium so they can get care from the beyond futuristic technology they are hoarding for themselves. Max agrees under one condition that the target is John Carlyle.
Carlyle is captured, the data is downloaded and now Delacourt has unleashed Kruger to hunt Max for the data he has stored into his head. Trust me this makes perfect sense when you see the film as to how they do this. For further plot spoilers you can go elsewhere or better yet just see the movie. Frankly I do not want to give the movie away as I found it worth watching. While the overall story is not exactly new territory it is the way Blomkamp has his actors give genuine human reactions to the situations they are in. There is a scene in the movie where Max is asked to help another get to Elysium with him and he instead flees as he is more concerned with his own self preservation than helping another. It was not the atypical action movie hero response of helping at all costs. Hell no, this man leaves with no intention of helping. He is dying and is running out of time.
The friendship between Julio (Diego Luna) and Max also felt natural. It felt as these two have been best friends for years who look after each other because they want to. I wanted to see a bit more of Julio in the movie as I liked their interactions quite a bit. Spider was another interesting character as a man who wants to help people yet still does not mind profiteering from those he wants to save. I was unsure where Spider was going until the scene where he sees just what the data Max is carrying in his head and how important it was. You could see the change in the character then and it played out from there nicely.
Jodie Foster is a stone cold bitch in this movie just as she should be. She is a monster in a while suit doing everything necessary to make sure "safety" is kept. Delacourt was Elysium's Homeland Security and she was drunk on that power. It was delicious. Finally Sharlto was just glorious as Kruger. I do not want to spoil him to any potential viewers but he made this movie for me. I cannot wait to see what he does in the upcoming film OLDBOY as one of the villains.
Now the visual effects of this movie were top notch. It felt as if everything was real and actual technology (even technology that is obtainable in our near future). I seriously want to fire one of the rail gun rifles Max shoots in the final act. The robots has an natural look about them that blended in with the rest of the sets and scenes as if they were actually there. Again Blomkamp uses effects in a conserved manner (almost minimalist compared to other heavy effects laden films) and the result gives a realism to each scene. The man knows how to frame shots to get the biggest bang for his effects budget and having Weta do the effects means they look spectacular.
I loved the audio in the film as well. From the dialogue volume to the sound effects, ambient sounds, musical score everything blended together well. My one criticism involves a monologue a little girl gives as it was hard to understand at points due to her age and a slightly mush mouthed delivery. Past that nothing else was lost in the audio department.
I do need to add that this movie continues the tradition of showing the world why Neill was the best choice for that HALO movie that never materialized. District 9 used repainted prop weapons that were built for HALO as their tech. Here we see a aerospace craft that is reminiscent of the Pelican as well as more military gear that the Spartans and Covenant may have used (let's just say Jackal's energy shield). But the look of Elysium station itself is an interpretation of a HALO ring. The space fly-by scenes kept reaffirming this by how it looks. You can see the man worked his ass off on prepping the film that fell through and is now reclaiming his take on things for his own works. And it works too.
I cannot recommend this movie enough. It definitely scratched the sci-fi itch I had all summer and has become another must own for my personal collection. My wife and I have been talking about this movie all day since seeing it and we keep coming up with more to discuss whether it is the acting, look or what the underlying story was about. Now I am looking forward to Neill's next movie due out in 2014 called Chappie which is another sci-fi film. Which is one of my favorite genres. It also stars Sharlto as the lead. My butt will be in the theater on day one yet again and now I wait eagerly.