At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Elysium “2013”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Brandon Auret, Josh Blacker, Faran Tahir, Emma Tremblay, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Adrian Holmes, Jared Keeso/ Runtime: 109 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by waxing a wee bit philosophical with you dear reader. When it comes to a paradise, the problem with anything that is attached with that label is that not only will it not work in the long haul, but that no matter how wonderful things may be in the interior and how magical it may look on the outside, there will always be conflict either from within or on the outside which will come about that has the potential to send the whole thing off the rails. Indeed it’ll never be glamorous as much as it should be, it’ll never be as safe as it should be, and as much as you would like to hope you will never ever be as far from rowdy neighborhood kids as you would like and that’s simply just for starters. Indeed this is because what we are looking at is human nature plain and simple no matter how many times we as a species may choose to try and deny it. Yes it may take a good long while, but sooner or later this will happen. Heck even in a series like Star Trek, a series involving a ship whose crew is part of an organization that is devoted to working towards bettering the galaxy sees everyone from Capt. Kirk all the way to Scotty still finds themselves saddled with human pathos and desires. Indeed we as a species will most likely or dare I say hopefully never attain the logic-focused state of Spock, but in all fairness who would want such a one-note way to live anyway? The reason I bring up this observation about paradise is because film helmer Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film Elysium is a movie which presents us with a look at a paradise and how both the corruption on the inside and the overwhelming desire of those on the outside wanting to get in ultimately conspire to bring the whole thing tumbling down with timely assistance of such aids as lust for power, greed to the max, and looking out for yourself over anyone else on both sides of the debacle. Indeed here is a movie which quite rivetingly takes on its subject matters in a covert Sci-Fi coating, but then makes quite obvious political observations on the inside, observations that will leave you slightly befuddled for a little bit due to being both far right and far left at the same time, but which are eventually cleared up to a passable degree as well as offering audiences both a group of wonderful performances as well as some terrifically executed action beats thus making for a film that is both slightly educational and full-on riveting in equal measure.

The plot is as follows: Elysium takes us to a future that could one day happen and introduces us to a man by the name of Max. As a young boy, our intrepid hero spent his days of looking to the stars for a chance to get off our planet which has slowly but surely gone sour. Yet instead of far off galaxies or even the moon, Max spent his time looking at a celestial object known as Elysium. This space station is a constructed oasis built for those with either copious amounts of luck or very deep pockets so they are able to live on a paradise as opposed to the overpopulated and resource-lacking Earth. Yet despite making a promise to his friend Frey that he would one day get them up there, we see that years later and Max is still stuck on our planet working at manufacturing the cop robots which continuously either give him grief, beat him up, or unfairly extend his parole. Meanwhile we also see that Frey hasn’t fared any better since, despite being a doc, she still can’t help her cancer-stricken daughter even if she could be healed in minutes with the medical tech at Elysium. However things soon go from bad to worse when Max is poisoned while on the job and, unless he wants to die in 5 days, finds his only choice is to get to Elysium, a task that is infinitely easier said than done due to both the base’s defenses and the people with no hesitations about their utilization with the key one being Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt. To that end, we see Max make a deal with an old criminal cohort to engage in an intel raid on a citizen of Elysium by the name of John Carlyle in order to garner the necessary intel on Elysium. In return he is given a fake I.D. tag and thus enabling him to go and get cured. Of course it isn’t long before things get thrown for a serious curve courtesy of a deadly agent of Elysium by the name of Kruger is assigned to take Max down whatever the cost. Thus what started out as a simple recovery mission now has turned into a battle for survival with no less than the fates of the people of both Earth and Elysium in the balance.

Now it might not look like it at first glance dear reader, but trust me when I say that Elysium is one of the more political films that was released in the year 2013. I say that because this is a film which covers everything from illegal immigration to universal health care (oh how timely). Indeed in this movie, we witness as the upper class has access to the good life complete with complimentary health care whilst those of us still on Earth try everything possible to get there, usually for medical reasons, only to be shot down while also dealing with a robotic police force who are incapable of properly dealing with human subjects. Oh and to top it all off they also have to deal with people from Elysium on Earth who see the rest of us as no more than an expendable and cheap form of labor. Indeed film helmer Neill Blomkamp has even said that he doesn’t see this as what could be, but rather what is in the here and now. Thus this is a movie which is able to do what the best of the storied genre that is science fiction does which is take the issues of the current day, whenever that may be, and put them in the world of tomorrow whilst also making it entertaining and engaging enough to make you aware of these issues. Still whether you agree with the helmer’s position on these various issues facing society or not, this is a movie which will most assuredly stir that simmering political crockpot just as much as it manages to entertain you with gun battles and hand to hand action scenes.

Yet it should be noted that all the hand to hand and gun battles are actually done extremely well as is everything else in the way of production values that this movie has to offer anyone who may be remotely interested in watching it. Indeed this is a film which is cautious in its attempts to ensure that the action beats do not completely override the narrative at the heart of the film. Rather, every gun battle and action beat is one which is organically tied to the narrative and more often than not a consequence of what goes down rather than being the item which moves the story forward. Indeed it is remarkably set-up and brilliantly carried out with both a preciseness, but also a potency that combined manage to give this movie an edge whilst also matching up quite well with the visceral reality of both the world and tale as well as the mechanical aides that help craft 2 characters in particular, but not nearly as much as it should their sense of humanity or lack of. Be that as it may be, the movie does do a decent job of making its characters quite believable and as a result it feels like we are watching the struggles of a group of real people rather than thespians playing movie magic. Yes in all fairness there is quite a degree of cliché at work in this film with special regard to the characters portrayed by Alice Braga and Jodie Foster and yes even the lead role of Max does fit into the archetype that is the reluctant hero. However, out of everyone in the movie the wildest performance has to be Sharlto Copley’s mercenary Kruger. Indeed think what would happen if you made the Terminator human and gave him a manic drive and personality and you would have a glimpse into the wonderful work that Copley does with this character. It should also be noted that the movie’s talented cast is also backed up admirably by some truly wonderful work in the visual effects department from the bodies exploding due to weaponry to Elysium itself which is truly a marvel to behold. Indeed the effects are truly flawless which is integral towards making this film as riveting as it can be whilst also ensuring the narrative is placed front and center.

All in all Elysium is not that different from another film released around the same time known as Upside Down. This is because when you really take the time to look at both of these films on an in-depth level they are both vivid showcases of a pair of distinct groups of people living close to each other yet are kept apart not by any barriers of a physical nature, but rather by the all-too real barriers of both gravity as well as economic standing. Yet while Upside Down chooses to mold its story into one of romance, Elysium’s is a lot more action-based and also chooses to approach a specific political agenda that is on the front page of every news station, magazine, and newspaper across the planet more often than not, but seems to be especially prevalent here in the U.S. Also it should be noted that Elysium is quite the heavy film as not only does it refuse to disguise its specific agenda, but it also doesn’t always take every truth about both the idea of a utopia as well as just mankind in general into account and chooses instead to focus on expansive ideals as well as broad stereotypes. Yet this doesn’t make this a horrible movie by any stretch. Rather, it is actually quite engaging and very well-constructed whilst also opening the door for continued analysis in both film and political science classes and with nearly no limit to how far the discussion could go or where it could potentially lead to.  Yes it may not ensnare the same delicate yet wonderful balancing act between telling a story, presenting us with riveting action beats, and embedding some wonderfully thought-provoking social commentary throughout as his first film District 9 was able to do so well, but film helmer Neill Blomkamp still manages to most certainly showcase that he most assuredly knows how to get the most out of any movie he sits behind the camera on and it is that factor to say nothing of the film’s riveting nature as well as terrific work done by a game cast that help ensure that this film doesn’t make an emergency crash landing back down to Earth. On a scale of 1-5 I give Elysium “2013” a solid 3.5 out of 5.