Writer-director Neill Blomkamp follows up his strong feature-directing debut, District 9, with another solid sci-fi effort in Elysium, a film that delivers terrific action along with a reasonable amount of smarts.
Now, I know this will sound a bit confusing, but Elysium is also a little on the stupid and illogical side, especially when considering its ending. I realize I just complimented the film for being smart. Well, it is as stupid as it is smart at times. It's very possible to be both dumb and brilliant in the same movie. Heck, Guillermo del Toro did just that with his Pacific Rim earlier this summer.
It's about 140 years in the future and man has, not surprisingly, screwed up the planet real good. It's one big garbage heap (shades of Wall-E and Idiocracy) and the planet's wealthy people have abandoned Earth for a bitchin' space station in the sky.
This space station, Elysium, has everything a rich bitch would want. It's got mansions, pools, sweet landscaping, 10 different kinds of tacos and, most notably, healing booths. These healing booths don't just fix a bruised knee or a paper cut. They cure cancer, and even reconstruct one's face after it has been blown apart by a grenade thing.
Matt Damon has shaved his head to play Max, an ex-con factory worker who puts together the droids that police the decrepit Earth. One morning, he gets sassy with one of these very droids and gets his arm broken for the effort. Then, while working under the watchful eye of the worst boss ever (William Fichtner, getting some cool points back after his dreadful turn in The Lone Ranger), Max microwaves himself and suffers radiation poisoning. With only five days to live, the only thing that will save him is a trip to Elysium.
While Elysium has the all-healing chambers, the snoots in the sky don't allow Earth residents to use them. So Max can't just hop a space shuttle and get fixed up. After a visit to Spider (Wagner Moura) his former crime boss, Max gets a super-weapon skeleton welded to his body (echoes of Robocop) and must agree to download a bunch of secret stuff into his brain in order to get a trip to the space station. Yes, it's all a little farfetched.
Farfetched and enjoyable, thanks to a stellar performance from Damon and some of the year's best special effects work. The look of the dirty planet, the pristine space station ... it's all spectacularly done.
Taking things up another notch is Sharlto Copley playing against type as a bad guy hunting Max. Copley is many miles away from his affable stooge in District 9; he's a seriously awful beast in this one with a fantastic and crazy accent. Jodie Foster gets some of her best work in years as Delacourt, defense minister for Elysium. She also has a great accent, and has no problem shooting down ships full of earthly residents trying to enter Elysium.
Elysium brings on the super-cool gadgetry and brainy sci-fi up until its finale, where the whole thing nearly falls apart. I won't give away the ending, but I will tell you it is rather dumb and illogical for a movie that was so smart up until the final minutes. Also, Blomkamp, who delivers terrific action scenes throughout his film, settles for incomprehensive Michael Bay-type editing for the final showdown. It's as if he just switched his style for the final reel.
Flaws and all, Elysium is still well worth your time, and further establishes Blomkamp as one of the modern film era's king of sci-fi. He gets sole credit for the screenplay on this one, so its combined brilliance and silliness rest entirely in his creative hands.
As for Damon, he looks pretty badass with a steel skeleton grafted to his body and a computer drilled into his head. With this, and his turn in Behind the Candelabra, the actor is having a banner year.