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ELYSIUM (review)

Review by Greg Vellante
Produced by Bill Block, Neill Blomkamp, Simon Kinberg
Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, 
Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, 
Wagner Moura, William Fichtner

Sony Pictures / Rated R

If anything were to strike you first while watching Elysium, odds are it will be the scale.

A sweeping shot across the futuristic wasteland of Los Angeles makes the city look like one giant, overpopulated trash heap.  Set in 2154, director Neill Blomkamp paints our planet with such apocalyptic despair that one half-expects WALL-E to be picking up the pieces in five to ten years.  The wealthy and privileged live on Elysium, a gorgeous creation in the sky that strongly resembles the cyclical space station of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey if it were to be blown up and turned into an entire planet.

The result is downright stunning, and through visual prowess alone Blomkamp knocks Elysium — his second feature as one of cinema’s most interesting and endlessly promising science fiction storytellers — out of the ballpark and into another universe.

He delivers, through and through.

Elysium is an epic tale of one man, named Max (Matt Damon), who dreams of a better world than the squalor he grows up in. As a boy, he looks at the mythical Elysium in the sky and knows, one day, he will be destined to go there.

How Max ends up on this adventure is something I wouldn’t care to spoil—a classic hero’s journey involving an awesomely-designed body suit that turns Max into something of a human weapon, a thrilling “data” heist, and one of the most exciting climaxes I’ve witnessed in theaters thus far in 2013.

What stands out most after sitting back and truly soaking in Elysium, is that Blomkamp’s vision is undeniably pure. As writer/director, he has crafted indelible worlds in both Earth and Elysium, and beautifully, almost effortlessly, brings these visions to the visual form. Elysium is a wonder to watch at times—a film whose aforementioned scale demands and deserves to be witnessed in the biggest format possible. I already plan on revisiting in IMAX.

While I admired District 9 for its bold ideas, tragic hero, and visual inventiveness, Elysium’s ideas are bolder, its hero even more tragic, and palette even more rich. A cartoonish performance by Jodie Foster as Elysium’s dictator-esque villain mucks up the vibe a bit, but a killer job by District 9’s Sharlto Copley as a deranged mercenary tracking Max brings everything back to an even balance.

Elysium, in the end, is destined to be a staple of the science fiction genre in film. Blomkamp isn’t just a filmmaker to look out for anymore, but rather someone whose work we are indubitably going to look back on.

And something tells me he’s only getting started.

Greg Vellante is a critic and film lover, based in Los Angeles, but born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, where he graduated from Emerson College. He thinks Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” is the greatest film ever made. His Twitter handle is @gregvellante if you want to follow him and witness poor attempts at being clever in 140 characters or less. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.

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