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Published August 16th 2013
The best action films aren't about explosions but people
A science fiction allegory of refugee acceptance and the wealth gap between first and third world, Elysium's plot and characters are grounded in its setting, but its thematic exploration propels the action.
In this dystopia, the buildings of Earth are worn, collapsing hulks and the population casts its eyes skywards towards the titular Elysium space station where the rich lounge the days away and cure all diseases with technology.
Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is a blue collar worker dosed with enough radiation to kill him in five days. He resolves to gain access to Elysium and consequently its Med-pods by aiding smuggler Spider (Wagner Moura) in hijacking Elysium's CEO's memories by plugging their brains together. In doing so, Max becomes inadvertently involved in a political scandal spearheaded by Secretary of Defence Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) to take over Elysium.
I actually received an Advance Screening, but I thought it would break etiquette to take photos. The average age of people there was 40 and some had notepads. Suffice to say, noone was yelling things at the screen.
Delacourt dispatches the mesmerising Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to retrieve the memories back, getting Max's old love interest Frey (Alice Braga) involved and the action sequences that follow are well shot, fast paced with excellent special effects. The characters react with their own motivations within the bounds of a racing plot, and it never feels as if any of them are superfluous or used as mere plot devices.
What I like about this film is that setting is so strong in this film. The sets are gigantic, contrasting the glossy green of Elysium and the dusty brown of Earth, flickers from roving gunships at the chase to the corridor to corridor climax.
Apart from gorgeous, distinct visuals the setting is strong in the characters. The characters from earth are the tattooed, filthy, rag wearing poor who have a tendency towards Spanish. Elysium's inhabitants could have come from a fashion catalogue. Da Costa's shaved, rough talking desperation slams in with well worn, functional gear against the pampered, spotless Delacourt and her political accent.
The director of Elysium, Neill Blomkamp also directed District 9, and he dragged Sharlto Copley with him. Sharlto played the protagonist in District 9 and he returns in spectacular form as the villain.
Kruger strides across the screen, chewing on his jokes in South African emphasis. Smiling in the face of violence, unkempt and filthy, armed and utterly ruthless, Kruger captivates in his scenes. There is a determination in his character that radiates an intensity that is hard to assess. The same way we crane to see car crashes, Kruger is so dangerous and different, a walking bomb that sets off Geiger counters ticking in your skull.
The film as a whole is an action film. It is a tightly crafted, visually distinct, character driven action film with a message. It embeds at its core the struggle for survival that evolves into the vendetta between adversaries that gives the film its emotive pull. Go see it.