It’s Better Up There

I’ve been looking forward to Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” pretty much ever since it was first announced. Back in 2009, Blomkamp’s debut feature District 9 became one of my surprise favorite films of the year. It kind of came out of nowhere for me, and I didn’t really have much interest in it until it came out and got really good reviews, so I decided to check it out and was very pleasantly surprised.

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I watched it again last week and it still holds up really well. The effects are top-notch (which is especially impressive given the movie’s relatively small budget), the acting is solid, the action is intense, and the story is original. And yes, there are certainly allegorical ties to Apartheid, but if you want to you can ignore the allegorical aspects of the film and simply enjoy it for the smart, original science fiction film that it is. I could go into the symbolism and such, but that’s a discussion for another time. I actually wrote a paper about District 9 in college, which is kind of cool I guess.

But anyway, on to Elysium.

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The plot of Elysium is fairly simple: in the future, Earth sucks. People on Earth basically live in a soul-sucking wasteland, and the Los Angeles of the future is half-desert. The wealthy folks, however, have it pretty good: they live on Elysium, a luxurious space station orbiting high above the Earth. They live in grandiose mansions and have these great machines that quickly heal all injuries or illnesses. Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, the station’s ambitious head of security, who just may be a bit too ambitious for her own good.

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Back on Earth, Matt Damon plays our hero Max, bald, buff, and tattooed. He’s dreamed of going to Elysium ever since he was a boy, growing up in an orphanage with his friend Frey, who is now a nurse with a daughter of her own. Frey’s daughter is in the final stages of leukemia, which will provide Max with a bit of extra motivation later on.

One fateful day, Max is inadvertently exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while working his job at the robot factory, and just like that, he only has five days to live. In a darkly funny scene, he is given painkillers by a medical robot, which tells him in its emotionless robot voice that “the pills should keep you functioning until your death.”

With no other options available to him, Max hooks up with some of his old pals who have a plan to get to Elysium, a plan that is, of course, So-Crazy-It-Just-Might-Work. In the process, Max submits himself to a gruesome operation (performed by some highly questionable surgeons) that welds a sort of robotic exoskeleton to his body, which greatly enhances his strength and endurance.

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And of course, when overly-ambitious Secretary of Defense Delacourt cottons on to their plan, she dispatches her secret weapon: Kruger.

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Kruger is played by the wonderfully-named Sharlto Copley, best known for playing Wikus, the hapless protagonist of District 9. Kruger is such a fearsome badass that he is already another one of my favorite villains of the year. He’s like the freaking Terminator: unstoppable, relentless, always showing up when you least expect him to, and when you really, REALLY don’t want him to.

He’s so tough he even survives getting his face thoroughly mangled by a grenade, and gets his face gruesomely reconstructed by one of Elysium’s healing machines in a scene that is definitely not for the squeamish, but is also undeniably impressive in terms of the special effects.

The showdowns between Max and Kruger are suitably epic, with Kruger’s ferocity and state-of-the-art exosuit pitted against Max’s black market knockoff exosuit and insatiable will to live. The two are great foils to each other, and make for a memorable pairing of hero and villain. And seriously, Sharlto Copley proves he has some serious range. His character in District 9 and his character in Elysium couldn’t be bigger opposites, and it is very much to the actor’s credit that he makes both of them work as well as he does.

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There’s also some serious hardware for our hero Max to contend with, and it will come as no surprise to anyone who saw District 9 that director Blomkamp once again comes up with some extremely cool sci-fi weaponry, equally as capable of shredding bodies as the alien weapons were in District 9.

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That ChemRail gun in the above picture gets my vote for Most Badass Sci-fi Weapon of 2013 so far. Elysium is a violent film, definitely not for the squeamish. There aren’t quite as many of the ultra-gory corpse-splosions that splattered most of the second half of District 9, but if you don’t like watching people getting literally blown to bits then you’re probably better off not watching a Blomkamp film.

And as with District 9, Elysium does have some allegorical aspects, even if they’re not as specific as District 9 was to South African Apartheid. It’s a science-fiction parable about the haves and the have-nots, but I’m not too concerned with the politics of the film. You can find people arguing on internet message boards and such over whether or not the film is socialist or some nonsense, but I could care less.

In my opinion, if you let yourself get so wrapped up in the political undertones of the film that you forget to have fun (since it’s a MOVIE and is meant first and foremost to be ENTERTAINING) then you’re just missing the point of going to the movies in the first place. Yes, movies can inform and enlighten us. I’m not denying that. Film is an incredibly versatile medium. But I think if you go into a summer sci-fi blockbuster and get all bent out of shape over the political undertones, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

But enough about politics. It’s been a good year for sci-fi, and Elysium continues that trend. I’m already looking forward to whatever shenanigans Blomkamp has in store for us next. District 10, anyone?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

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I’m also a big fan of these retro-style posters.

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