tue 23/04/2024

Elysium | reviews, news & interviews



Matt Damon goes steampunk into the gritty future

Max (Matt Damon) gets permanently equipped for the fight in 'Elysium'

Neil Blomkamp’s got a thing for crafts. Spacecrafts, that is. With his first feature, District 9, alien ships hovered over Johannesburg in 1982. Now it’s 2154 and Elysium, a nirvana-like space station for the elite, floats in Earth’s orbit, using all the global resources and leaving the planet ravaged, polluted, riddled with crime and simply dreadful.

Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-con gone straight. As a boy, he promised his childhood girlfriend Frey (Alice Braga) they too would live in Elysium. Of course, in the grown-up world, that’s impossible: they're only ordinary citizens. Making matters worse is that Frey’s young daughter is suffering from leukemia, which, like all diseases, is curable on Elysium. However, when Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at work, he’ll do anything to get to Elysium to be cured, even if that job means having a metal RoboCop-like skeleton bolted onto his own, kidnapping Elysium executive (William Fichter) and, shades of Johnny Mnemonic, stealing what’s in his brain. The data in there is what Delacourt (Jodie Foster), Elysium’s Secretary of Defense, needs to overthrow the current government. So her unstoppable renegade Kruger (Sharlto Copley) tracks Max down.

Damon is typically nuanced and solid as Max, a suitably beefed-up hero who hasn’t lost his humanity or our sympathies

Taking key people from his first film, DOP Trent Opaloch, designer Philip Ivey and VFX guru Peter Muyzers, Blomkamp creates a set of amazing worlds with dazzling sounds and sights so even when the story plods a bit, there is still something alluring to watch. Yes, Elysium’s tone is a lot like District 9 – the same feel of desperation and overbearing injustice - and the palette is similar too. But its bigger budget gives Blomkamp more explosions, more scope and overall more sophisticated production design. It’s also conjured a good cast. Damon is typically nuanced and solid as Max, a suitably beefed-up hero who hasn’t lost his humanity or our sympathies. Foster plays against type in a jarring supporting role as the gelid, power-hungry Delacourt, a role that accommodates a weird English accent as well as Foster's fluent French.

Along with the bad guy Spider (Wagner Moura, a good actor in a limited role, making evil sort of understandable given the state of things), Kruger (Sharlto Copley) is one of the wilder characters. Copley, who was discovered in (and helped produce) District 9, has an energy the camera just loves. His nervy, barely-controlled actions and crazed but purposeful focus gives Kruger a believable mercenary quality weighted with a thick, specific South African accent. He’s terrifying and hilarious at the same time, even when…well, no point ruining one of the film’s best surprises. Another terrific casting treat is Fichtner (The Lone Ranger) as Elysium’s cold-hearted technological company CEO John Carlyle. With this character, Fichtner’s sharp manner and matching face are impossible not to enjoy.

Ultimately, Elysium is exciting, intriguing and only a little preachy. The fanboys were grabbing the arms of their cinema seats during some of the fight/chase sequences. So even if the romance between Max and Frey is a little blah, there’s always some well-crafted action or good-looking technology waiting just around the corner.

Watch the trailer to Elysium overleaf



Even when the story plods a bit, you’ve still got something to look at


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters