The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"ELYSIUM"

Elysium

Four years ago, Neill Blomkamp made a stunning feature debut with District 9. Aside from being an incredibly exciting film, it also used the science-fiction genre to explore themes related to Apartheid. Blomkamp's follow-up, Elysium, similarly injects relevant themes into a sci-fi/action story. This time, his subject is the need for universal health care. Now, I know some of you right now are thinking, Pass! But don't write Elysium off that easily. You'll be missing out on one of the summer's most ambitious and entertaining movies.

The story is set in the year 2154. Earth has become an overcrowded, germ-infested place. Those who are sufficiently wealthy have left the planet and now live on a massive space station known as Elysium, so big it can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. On Elysium, they have access to advanced medical care that practically eliminates illness and disease. A lot of people from here want to get to there. One of those people is Max (Matt Damon), a factory worker who is exposed to lethal amounts of radiation during a workplace accident. He has only five days to live. Max knows a guy in the underground who can help him find passage to Elysium, but in order to get a flight, he first has to steal some valuable information from a corporate bigwig (William Fichtner). Armed with a surgically-mounted metal exoskeleton to help him stay mobile during his illness, Max sets out to illegally get medical treatment for himself and the terminally ill daughter of a childhood friend (Alice Braga). When Elysium's Secretary of Defense, Delacourt (Jodie Foster), learns of his plans, she sends a sadistic rogue agent named Kruger (Sharlto Copely) to hunt him down.

Elysium is very clearly about the healthcare issue, yet it wouldn't be fair to call it a political film. As with District 9, Blomkamp simply uses a weighty subject as a means to create absorbing drama. Many scenes contrast the destitution of Earth with the lush, hyper-sanitized environment on Elysium. We see how suffering individuals like Max simply want to be healthy. This desire gives a lot of weight to his adventure; we understand why he wants to get to the space station so badly, and that lends everything that happens a sense of urgency that makes the movie suspenseful. There's no political message beating you over the head here, although the ability for the poor to receive the same medical treatment as the wealthy is what hangs in the balance. I have a soft spot for sci-fi movies that use the genre to investigate societal issues; this one does it extremely well. It's more provocative than political.

It's also packed with action. Blomkamp stages a number of thrilling sequences, from an ambush Kruger springs on Max, to our hero's dramatic attempt to penetrate Elysium's atmosphere. These, and other, sequences are very well-staged, providing excitement while always remaining directly related to the story. Nothing is gratuitous or thrown in simply to be awesome for awesome's sake. I think this is part of what makes Blomkamp such an interesting filmmaker. He creates stories of substance, then packs them with exciting sequences designed specifically to maximize that substance. When so many science-fiction and/or action movies these days are simply about providing a mindless, visceral thrill, Blomkamp's are concerned with stimulating your mind and emotions simultaneously.

Elysium is visually stunning (just wait until you see the space station) and has good performances. Matt Damon, as always, proves to be a likable leading man, while Jodie Foster hits the right notes of bureaucratic cruelty as the government official concerned with keeping up the status quo that she thinks is “right.” Sharlto Copely, meanwhile, is a phenomenal villain. He makes Kruger downright evil and a genuine threat to Max. It's one of my favorite performances of the year.

District 9 may have been a tad more original, and a little tighter overall. At times, Elysium feels like perhaps it's taking on too much, with all its subplots (the corporate guy, the old friend). Still, this is a worthy follow-up for Neill Blomkamp. It's clear that he is determined to make smart, important science-fiction. We're lucky to have him.

( 1/2 out of four)


Elysium is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.


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