Elysium had the opportunity to be a truly great film, extending the sci-fi lineage built by Metropolis, Silent Running, Logan’s Run, The Terminator, The Matrix, and Gattaca. The director Neill Blomkamp has produced what may be thought of as a natural and very good follow-up to his previous effort District 9. In Elysium, Blomkamp offers a pure science fiction story in the spirit of Heinlein or Bradbury, and supports it with grand visuals and imaginative, thoughtful concepts of future technology and societal paradigms. At its best, Elysium is stunning and breathtaking.
The premise that the entire earth has become a giant wasteland without any connection to the inhabitants in orbit above I did not 100% buy, but this movie was good enough to let those doubts fall by the wayside. For about the first two-thirds of the film, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story and experienced something great beyond expectations.
The final act unfortunately devolves into standard Hollywood fight and action scenes, as the Times’ Manohla Dargis summarizes:
Like many others working the industrial genre beat, Mr. Blomkamp turns out to be much better at blowing things up than putting the shattered pieces together, though this may also be a matter of box-office calculation. The beginning of “Elysium” comes on like gangbusters, and at first it’s fun to be swept up in a movie like this, riding shotgun with the swooping camera moves and feeling the dread creep in with each of the score’s brassy blares (harbingers of doom like those in “Inception”). As the weapons start firing and the blood begins running, it’s hard not to wonder, though, if it’s Mr. Blomkamp who couldn’t find a genuinely fresh exit strategy or whether, as this summer’s screen conflagrations suggest, it’s the big studios that have given up on Utopia.
That about says it. There was a critical juncture in the latter half of the film where it could have gone down a path of true cinematic enlightenment. Blomkamp might have chosen to take us not only to Elysium, but to Nirvanna. At that fork in the road, he instead chose to drive down the same worn-out track that all the other big-budget summertime flicks have trod.
Another thing I didn’t like was the whole ‘Iron Man-lite’ suit that Matt Damon’s character was bolted into — I think that part of the movie was mishandled. Still, on balance, this is one of the best movies of the year so far and worth checking out on the big screen. 8/10