The 2013 science fiction movie Elysium is the second film directed by Neill Blomkamp and stars Matt Damon. Blomkamp's first movie, District 9, featured human/alien disparities in the cohabitation of Earth and received wildly positive critical acclaim. Elysium focuses on a similar scenario, that of the ultimate rich/poor rift in human society, bundling together income disparity, health care, and immigration into a powerful narrative.
In the year 2154 human society on Earth has fallen into ruinous decay due to rampant overpopulation, pollution and disease. The wealthiest people have escaped this third world to Elysium, a utopian environment on an orbiting Stanford torus style space station. On Elysium, citizens also have access to the best in health-care technology such as scanner beds that can heal broken bones, rebuild body parts and cure diseases instantly. The source of the space station's name describes the situation perfectly: in Greek mythology, Elysium was the place where the blessed resided after death; the word can also be defined as a place of flawless happiness. Either way the lifestyle constrast in the film is striking.
Occasionally, desperately sick people try to sneak onto Elysium to use this stunning technology. These illegal immigrants are all rapidly rounded up by the station's robot security and deported. Those who maintain the space station's security, foremost amongst them the station's defense secretary, Madame Delacourt (Jodie Foster), will stop at nothing to protect the citizens of Elysium from any and all danger by enforcing stringent anti-immigration laws. Delacourt frequently goes as far as ordering the destruction of ships that attempt to get there.
That story begins with Max de Costa (Matt Damon), a downtrodden middle-aged ex-convict slaving away in a Los Angeles robotics factory, building the very robots that oppress him. Harassed by law enforcement and abused by his factory superiors, Max stubbornly refuses to return to his life of theft and avoids the men that used to be his associates. However, when he gets trapped inside a one of the factory's machines and suffers a lethal dose of radiation, Max is informed that he only has five days to live. His only hope is to smuggle himself into Elysium so as to use its miraculous medicle technology.
To reach Elysium, Max is forced to take a job with his old gang boss, Spider, to steal valuable computer data from one of Elysium's billionaire citizen's. Max chooses his factory’s heartless owner, John Carlyle (William Fichtner), as the heist's target. To accomplish this heist Max undergoes an excruciating medical procedure which enhances his mental and physical abilities by screwing a robotic exoskeleton and computer system into his bones. When Max gets his obtains the data, Spider soon realizes that he's uncovered something huge: a massive plot at the heart of Elysium's directors that Madame Delacourt is desperate to cover up.
Delacourt has powerful weapons at her disposal, amongst them Kruger, a vicious and brutally effective mercenary armed with the very best military equipment available and driven by insane determination. The sociopathic Kruger is played by District 9 star Sharlto Copley, who gives a convincing strong man performance that is entirely seperate from the nervous bureaucrat he played in District 9. This casting also provides an example of the excellent performances that result from the chemistry between a director and actor who know each other’s strengths.
Damon's protagonist provides a more unremarkable performance that attempts to captivate and to be humanist by blending a good dose of toughness with his trademark Everyman humility. Though the character does eventually get invested in the fate of his close friend's sick daughter, for the most part Max is solely animalistic as he scowls and brandishes various terrifying weapons. Damon makes Max a firmly grounded (some might say inhuman) hero driven solely by self-preservation; little complexity is added.
Blomkamp, on the other hand, deftly establishes the issues and paints the background with enough detail to make this multicultural dystopian split between the uber rich and plebes feel logical and familiar. Yet while Elysium may be an amazing peice of art, Blomkamp is less impressive at balancing the action requirement: once the setting is established and the midpoint arrived at any thoughtful consideration of the issues is left behind as the narrative quickly disintegrates into violence (much like District 9). Nonetheless, with his skillful direction an otherwise insufferable Elysium becomes a potently captivating, fast paced blend of fantastic and realistic that is certainly worth the watch.