Film Review: Elysium


Science-fiction blockbuster Elysium ticks the boxes in terms of action and special effects. The only real negative is that the film feels a bit hollow.

In the late 21st century, the world has become overpopulated and the wealthy have fled to Elysium, an artificial environment built close to Earth. As a boy, Max dreams of living there, but it is only as an adult that his need becomes more urgent…

Elysium is standard blockbuster fare in that it offer a world-changing narrative through the microcosm of an everyman protagonist. Max is the unlikely hero with a momentous destiny. Elysium plots this protagonist against the might of the corporate overlord in a David versus Goliath style battle.

The dystopian world depicted in Elysium is one that will be familiar to sci-fi film fans. There is nothing wrong with this, merely that that film offers a recognisable dystopia. There are a number of elements which appear to have been influenced by sci-fi films from the last thirty years or so.

Although the setting is markedly different, Elysium evokes the same themes as Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut District 9. Both films depict apartheid, and the stigmatisation of otherness. With Elysium, this is much more of a divide of class lines, rather than race. The film is very much a commentary on inequality and the distribution of wealth.

Whilst the film ticks along as it should, and there are some great action sequences, there is an inescapable feeling of hollowness. There are points at which tension is successfully generated. However, the main characters feel a bit too bland for the audience to fully engage with them. The inclusion of a child (although it makes sense in the overall narrative) feels like a ploy to pull at the heart strings.

Special effects in Elysium are faultless. Performances are also good, with Matt Damon ever the competent action hero. Sharlto Copley is great fun whenever he is on screen, and Jodie Foster is well cast.

Perhaps it is simply the dashed hope that Blomkamp would do something smarter than this, which makes the film a little disappointing. Elysium is proficient and entertaining, but there is a lingering feeling that the film could have gone beyond this.