Elysium shoots for the stars but loses its grip

Elysium shoots for the stars but loses its grip

Following his game changing sci-fi mockumentary, District 9, director Neill Blomkamp plays it safe with a bigger, more action driven second effort. Frederick Latty goes back to the future to review Elysium, still this summer’s most distinctive blockbuster

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 109 mins

Released: Out now

The sci-fi genre has been a bit of a mixed bag in recent years; from intelligent character studies such as Moon and Sunshine to post apocalyptic popcorn fodder like After Earth and Oblivion, there has been something for everyone on both sides of the spectrum. Somewhere in the middle lies Elysium, South African director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9, his critically acclaimed debut.

Set in 2154, the wealthy enjoy a life of luxury on the eponymous manmade space station, while the poor are left to dwell on the barren, overpopulated Earth. Damon plays Max, a man with a troubled past and dreams of escaping his destitute existence. When he is accidentally exposed to radiation, he is given five days to live, by which time he must get to Elysium not only to save his own life, but to bring equality to the polarised worlds.

With Peter Jackson’s coattails nowhere in sight, Blomkamp is able to find his feet and come into his own, perfecting his craft to accommodate a bigger, more mainstream audience. His action sequences are exhilarating, expertly choreographed and rooted in a gritty realism that truly sets them apart. His new vision of the future, however, is one that is all too familiar, 22nd century Los Angeles appearing as a desolate, dystopian wasteland that has already been well documented onscreen.

Naturally, with an Oscar nomination under his belt and a $70million budget increase to play with, Blomkamp has attracted some Academy Award winning pedigree to his roster this time around. Damon brings an everyman quality to Max, whose reluctance to save anyone but himself gradually gives way in the face of his own mortality. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, is cold and largely forgettable as Delacourt, the stern and ruthless head of Elysium’s homeland security. District 9’sSharlto Copley, who gives perhaps the most entertaining turn as Delacourt’s renegade enforcer, Kruger, is infused with a cartoonish villainy that prevents any significant depth.

Like its predecessor, Elysium is one of the more visually unique films in recent memory. Forgoing the tiresome lure of shooting in 3D, Blomkamp opts instead for a far more immersive and satisfying IMAX experience. Once again employing a naturalistic, handheld edge, the director adds a level of believability to his effects not usually found in today’s CG littered landscape.

And yet, for all its visual prowess, the film still adheres to a disappointingly formulaic structure. While District 9 was among the most groundbreaking sci-fi ventures of the new millennium, this more commercial successor falls short of its potential and is nothing we haven’t seen before.

And so we return to the mixed bag that is contemporary science fiction. If District 9 was a thinking man’s spin on the genre, then Elysium, despite touching on themes as weighty as class segregation and social revolution, is ultimately more style than substance. Regardless of its flaws, it nonetheless shows an already promising director packing a hefty second punch as one of the most exciting sci-fi filmmakers of our time.

Verdict – 3 stars

Blomkamp’s second stint behind the camera will easily fill more seats than his experimental debut, but lacks the essence that made District 9 so special. With its impressive visuals and masterful action sequences, however, it is certainly something to behold on the big screen.