Once upon a time, Sci-Fi movies were for adults. They have since been watered down to PG and PG-13 ratings so they would appeal to more people and make more money. Aside from watering down the violence and sex for the rating they also have been watering down the message and intelligence as well. But films like Looper, Prometheus, The Bay and The Divide have started coming out with pushing the limits of both an R-rating and what lessons we take away from the theater. If that resurgence in the R-rated Sci-Fi film with a brain had a leader, it would be director Neill Blomkamp who may have kicked it off with District 9 and is keeping the torch lit with Elysium.
When District 9 came out in 2009, I had no expectations for it at all. It looked like a goofy mockumentary about aliens and I wasn't even sure if I was going to see it. But after a roaring wave of positive remarks about it from critics and a Best Picture nod I did and it was my favorite movie of that year. It was amazingly original, smart, important, exciting and made the audience do something I haven't heard in a while; clap and cheer in the middle of the film. Needless to say, my expectations for Elysium were much, much different and that might have been its downfall. When Orson Wells released Citizen Kane, it was so amazing that nothing he ever made after that was considered good because it didn't live up to the greatest film ever made. Now, I'm not saying District 9 is the greatest film ever made but it is one of the greatest Sci-Fi ones.
Elysium takes place over a hundred years in the future where the meek have inherited Earth and made it meeker because it's now an overcrowded, diseased ghetto and the elite 1% live on a space station called Elysium that orbits the Earth, where it's beautiful but more importantly, healthy. Nobody dies there because the technology exists to save you from whatever is wrong. Matt Damon is the reluctant hero who embarks on a journey against his will to change all that and make the playing field equal. That, my friends, is not-so-subtle social comentary; bold statements against classes, the haves and have-nots, equal healthcare, corrupt governments and Socialism. Politically and Socially, this film is ripe and timely and, what I believe to be, a wonderful allagory for the war going on now in America.
As biting as the script is, it's not very original. Damon is the exact same cliched role that used to be filled by Swarzenegger or Stallone in the '80s. There's the random kid that melts the tough guy's heart. There's evil villain in a suit that pulls the puppet strings. There's the psychotic henchman that can't be stopped. All the familiar sites and characters are here and that's disapointing only because it was in a film by Blomkamp. If anyone else would have made this, all those things would have been easy to overlook but from him, i expected better. However, that's not to say that his execution of cliches isn't stellar. Jodie Foster is the evil puppet master and she's cold as ice. I even appreciate the accent her character has from living for decades on Elysium. But no one is more fun to watch than Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team), who's the unstoppable henchman. This role is a massive departure from what he's played in the past and he's just as good at it. He's rapidly becoming one of the best actors in Hollywood.
If you've never seen District 9, and there are lots of people who still haven't, then you'll love this film. Aside from the fact that you have no frame of refrence for what Blomkamp is capable of, you'll enjoy it for the throwback to the Sci-Fi movie with balls. But if you're like me and revere District 9, than Elysium stands as a slight disapointment for originality but still impresses in total package. It may not have gotten clapping and cheering in the middle of the film but it did get an audible reaction and to pull that off in this jaded, movie-going world; that's impressive.