At the end of District 9 the ‘fookin prawns’ promised that they’d come back in four years. That sort of worked as a meta for director Neil Blomkamp because he’s back after the exact amount of time with a new, even more bombastic film.
Don’t get your hopes too high up, because Elysium is not as smart, lean and gritty as District 9, but it is WAY more action packed. It’s the masala entertainer version of sci fi, but done with the insane dedication, passion and artistry that you expect from Blomkamp. If you love science fiction, action films, video games and Matt Damon, Elysium is paisa vasool entertainment. You dig Halo? There’s two dozen references to the game, including the ‘Elysium’ being Halo. You love Third Person Shooters? Yeah Blomkamp has you covered - there’s awesome gunplay, with electrobolt rail guns shredding humans into tiny pieces.
Do you also love a good story? That’s where the film sort of fumbles around clumsily. It’s not that the story is bad, but Blomkamp includes some cringe inducing cheesy flashbacks and Bollywood style manipulative melodramatic scenes. It’s very jarring especially because you walk in expecting a no nonsense taut film like District 9. All of the themes of racial discrimination, social divide and elitist snobbery from D9 are redone in Elysium, but on a much grander scale, and sadly in a ham handed manner.
If you can ignore the three-four instances of inelegant preaching, Elysium is a blast from start to finish. There’s not a dull moment here thanks to the gravelly editing. The production design is incredible, from all the gleaming futuristic hardware of the first world to the rusty crapware of the third world. The robots are so impossibly realistic and fluid you'd think there’s a guy wearing a robot suit. In fact the film looks like a sprawling gigantic $250 million film when its budget is less than half of that. More importantly the film is more rousing, epic and exciting than most big budget films out there. More money doesn’t necessarily mean better action, and Blomkamp demonstrates that beautifully here. When you see two guys mauling each other in exo-suits you realize that this would’ve been the action movie of the year had Pacific Rim not existed.
Sharlto Copley, the protagonist from D9 is a delightfully badass baddie here – armed to the teeth with ammo and even a sword, with no semblance of pity or compassion. It’ll be interesting to see what he does as the villain in the Oldboy remake. Damon is excellent for a variety of reasons. We’ve seen him play the unstoppable assassin fighter in the Bourne films, and he makes an effort to distance himself from that character – he plays an everyman who is forced into firing weapons, and he gets his ass beaten. He wears a strength enhancing exoskeleton later on, but doesn’t become an invincible action hero – he becomes more like Isaac Clarke from Dead Space – a nice touch to make his character more believable.
If you’re wondering why there are so many video game references, it’s because that is exactly what this film is, a video game adaptation, and a damn good one at that. The film is set in 2154, the same year that Commander Shepherd from Mass Effect was born. Young modern filmmakers like Blomkamp grew up playing video games, and they understand what it takes to turn games into great cinema, a feat that Hollywood has failed at over and over again. This makes me hopeful for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed and Duncan Jones’ Warcraft.
(First published in MiD Day)