Mania Review: Elysium -

Mania Review

Mania Grade: A

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  • Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura and William Fichtner
  • Written by: Neil Blomkamp
  • Directed by: Nail Blmokamp
  • Studio: Sony Pictures
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Elysium

Class warfare never looked so incredible.

By Rob Vaux     August 09, 2013

 The message is simple and direct, but dwelling on its simplicity misses the point. Just because we know what Elysium is trying to say doesn’t preclude the power and elegance with which it says it. Like director Nail Blomkamp’s District 9, you can take Elysium at face value or look for something more. It does equally well either way, and the assured confidence with which it goes about its task doesn’t short change either end.

Ostensibly, it’s about a future society in which evil elites live in a giant luxury satellite in the sky while the squalid underclass struggles to survive on the planet below. It’s about how the underclass schemes to fight back and what happens when one of their number suddenly has nothing left to lose. It’s about good guys vs. bad guys, epic cyborg fights, and the way cool guns can blow up even cooler robots in the coolest possible ways. Matt Damon plays the hero, an anonymous schlub upon whom destiny pivots when he finds himself in the wrong place at the exact right time. We follow his painful efforts to break into that satellite in the sky and the chaos he unleashes in the process. You can eat your popcorn, enjoy the well-crafted rollercoaster ride, and happily let Elysium thrive as the best blockbuster of the summer.

Beneath that lies Blomkamp’s larger point, as easy to read as the fight scenes. The haves lord it over the have-nots, and that fundamental inequality cannot hold without blood being spilled. Elysium seethes with anger at the universal injustice: at those born on third base thinking they’d hit a triple and the contempt they hold for those who they perceive as lessers. That message looms larger than ever in this brave new century and those who dismiss it as Hollywood propaganda do so at their peril.   Blomkamp executes the notion with breathtaking skill, but he really has nothing more complex on his mind.

The complexities – the real genius of this superb movie – come in the details. We see a world not tailor-made for a revolutionary change, one in which the reality of 150 more years has had time to seep into the corners. These people have been dealing with this for quite some time before we get to them. They’re used to the seething crowds, the casual brutality, the drudgery of day after day after day devoid of even the barest hopes. The good guys lost a long time again, and now the survivors just struggle to get by.  Elysium plunges us into that world with deceptive ease, then lets us run around in it a while before turning the plot loose.

It’s a heady rush, delivered elegantly and efficiently with the skill of a master at work. We drink in the surroundings like a man dying of thirst, eager to see whatever the director has for us next, while acknowledging the social commentary almost in passing.  Few films of this ilk hold so much interest merely in the presentation. To do anything more as Blomkamp does – with storytelling, with characterization, with an observation of the human condition—feels like a minor miracle.

His best co-conspirator is the same one he had on District 9. Sharlto Copley, the quietly monstrous bureaucrat in that earlier film, returns as a much louder monster here. He plays the upper class’s agent on Earth, a kind of human Terminator who disposes of the elites’ messy problems. We don’t know where he stands at first; only gradually does his evil bubble to the surface. By then, we can’t take our eyes off him, much like the rest of the film, and the further we travel with him, the more incredible his presence becomes.

Damon holds his own against him, finding a new way to repackage his nice-guy leading man shtick into another solid performance. Unfortunately Jodie Foster does far less well as the satellite’s head of security. She’s clearly bored by the whole affair – by acting in general if the rumors are true – and her lackluster performance hits the film’s few sour notes. Thankfully, Copley’s ready to pick up the slack and with Blomkamp’s sharp script in hand, it hardly matters whether or not a key actor checks out.

The rest of the film is a revelation, not quite as surprising as District 9 but no less refreshing for its authority and verve. The sophomore slump has failed to materialize, leaving us with not only the best film of the summer, but one of the best of 2013 thus far. This is the product of a major filmmaking talent, well on his way to joining the likes of Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro. That science fiction remains his chosen genre is a blessing to the medium, and another sign that it holds far more potential than its short-sighted detractors can fathom. You won’t see a better example of what it can do anytime soon.


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fatpantz 8/9/2013 1:07:13 AM

I cant wait!!

kennynine 8/9/2013 1:31:11 AM

"District 9" is one of my favorite sci-fi movies. I liked "Elysium",  but wasn't blown away. The film definitely lagged a little at times and could have used some polishing in the story department. The plot and violence reminded me of an 80's sci-fi action film, which isn't  entirely a bad thing. The visuals are breathtaking. CGI robots could not look anymore real. Seriously, it is impossible to tell they are CGI, so detailed. "Star Trek Into Darkenss" is still my favorite summer movie, and I used to hate Trek, so I am very surprised that I am saying that. "Elysium" ranks in my top 5 of the summer, but with this summers blockbusters that isn't saying much. That being said, I think Blombcamp has a very bright future in this genre, we will be in for some real treats when he gets his hands on another solid script. Hopefully one of the future "Star Wars" projects. 

ActionMovieGod 8/9/2013 4:45:21 AM

This movie was very cool was hopeing for more action..So B- for me.Favorite movies this year 3. Pacific Rim 2.Man of steel 1.StarTrek Into Darkness.

VermithraxPejorative 8/9/2013 4:52:10 AM

I didn't like District 9, so I'm not sure how I will react to this. I like Matt, but this looks like the typical Sci-Fi fare of late with "amazing" visuals and the not-so-deep story. Avatar is a great example of that. A visually stunning, but pathetically boring and poorly acted movie that became a huge success. I'm not sure this film is really any different, especially when the viuals and CGI FX are what seems to be most talked about.

If it was more like Moon, maybe I could get into it. I'll wait, for now.

redvector 8/9/2013 6:08:35 AM

I couldn't sit  through District 9  it's a overrated movie. If you want a sci-fi film about race relations watch Alien Nation. You don't feel like you're being preached to or screamed at. And it did it without flashy f/x and CGI.

monkeyfoot 8/9/2013 6:17:50 AM

I'm pretty sure I'll see this tomorrow.

I liked District 9 but for me it was really a "watch once all the way through" kind of movie. I think I've seen it about 1.5 times after watching it in the theaters.

I didn't like Alien Nation the movie. It was just an 80s action movie with a few  sci-fi elements thrown in to me. Alien Nation the TV series is another thing. I loved that show! It got really deep into the concepts about race relations and other cultures that the movie didn't have time for. It was sort of like the movie Stargate and the series Stargate SG-1. The series did a way better job with the concept.

ignitethepages 8/9/2013 6:39:25 AM

 Can't wait to see this.  

Rob, right on with the baseball metaphor.  

redhairs99 8/9/2013 7:29:33 AM

Saw this Wednesday night and it was freakin' awesome.  Neill Blomkamp as my pick to head up the new Star Wars movies before JJ got the gig.  This director is simplythe best at what he does.  He's carved himself a niche in the sci-fi genre to tell human stories about social inequalities.  The movie is only as deep as what you take out of it.  For me, it was a pretty solid story, well acted, and well directed.  

Like District 9 before it, just the absolute best CGI I've seen in any flick.  I watched District 9 on Bluray a couple months ago and the effects still blow me away.  Usually with CG, the problem isn't with the rendering or lack of detail in the animation, it's in the compositing process that most CG falls short for me.  That line that makes the CG look as if it's a practical effect, it looks like it was shot live on the set.  It just looks real.  That's where movie like Avatar, King Kong, the Star Wars Prequels etc. have fallen short effects-wise.  The interaction between live actors and CG characters and envirnoments.  I never once in King Kong thought there was a giant ape holding Niaomi Watts.  It just screamed "Green Screen" shot.

I would have given this film an A plus, but I think it's more A, or A minus for me.  The only real issue I had was the shaky cam.  Sometimes it worked, but a lot of the time is was just too distracting and took away from the amazing visuals.

redhairs99 8/9/2013 7:51:01 AM

Almost forgot to mention Sharlto Copley.  This dude is an awesome actor.  There's not a movie he's been in that I haven't enjoyed his performance in.  Granted, I haven't seen him in much, but he's great in District 9, A-Team and this.  Really hoping that Europa Report has a release in my area.  Looking forward to that as well.

blankczech 8/9/2013 8:54:36 AM

 First let me say...I loved District of my all time favorite Sci-Fi flicks.

Most of the bad reviews I've read for this film are from people who don't like it's politics (excuse my french but screw them).  Rob says this is the best film of the summer and one of the best of 2013 so far. I don't always agree with Vaux's reviews but I'll take him at his word on this one (Rolling Stone who's opinion I value, also praised it). 

Rob (like ignitethepages) I liked your comment "Elysium seethes with anger at the universal injustice: at those born on third base thinking they'd hit a triple and the contempt they hold for those they perceive as lessers."  

I was relatively well off as a kid (stable supportive parents, big suburban house, swimming pool, basketball court in driveway, good education etc)...but I became instantly poor when I finished school, left the nest, got married and had a kid ...for years I struggled near the poverty line before I was able to pull myself out of that quagmire.  My Dad would have helped if I begged him to, but I wouldn't give him the satisfaction (all my life I heard him brag about being a self made man).  I'll never look down at the poor folks who couldn't escape.  I had advantages they didn't have. I was born on second base.  I was white and I was connected.  People who characterize the poor as lazy people looking for handouts make me sick.  I hesitate calling them poor...they were people without money or power...but they were rich in many other ways.  Some of the nicest, most genuine, proudest, hardest working folks I ever met.  

If Nail Blomkamp wants to be a champion of the poor and disenfranchized ...I support him 100%

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