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Review and Roundup: Neill Blomkamp's 'Elysium,' Starring Damon, Absorbing Sci-Fi with Heavy-Handed Message UPDATE

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 2, 2013 at 2:41PM

South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp had a tall mountain to climb with his follow-up to low-budget Best Picture Oscar contender "District 9," which scored $215 million worldwide. Ever since the indie pick-up put Blomkamp on the map as an original filmmaker with an extraordinary command over VFX, film fans have eagerly awaited his next. Sony primed the pump for his $90 million sci-fi thriller "Elysium" (August 9) at Comic-Con last year, where Hall H exploded over seven minutes of early footage.
Matt Damon in "Elysium"
Matt Damon in "Elysium"

Check out our TOH! video interview with Blomkamp at 2012's Comic-Con here.


So close and yet so far, the colony of Elysium hovers just outside Earth’s atmosphere, a mere 19-minute shuttle ride away but figurative light years for the downtrodden proletarian masses of the 22nd century. So begins the much-anticipated second feature from South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp, whose 2009 “District 9” was one of the few recent sci-fi/fantasy pics (along with “Inception” and “Children of Men”) that deserved to be called visionary. Here, Blomkamp delivers a less dazzling but nonetheless highly absorbing and intelligent, socially conscious bit of futurism, made on a much larger scale than its $30 million predecessor, but with lots of the same scrappy ingenuity. Result confirms the helmer as much more than a one-hit wunderkind.

The Wrap:

Science-fiction is, of course, often used as a vehicle to tell stories about the here and now disguised as tales of the future -- and lest anyone miss out on Blomkamp’s thoughts on contemporary immigration and health care, “Elysium” underlines and italicizes them before going over them again in yellow highlighter.

Blomkamp is a master of creating action out of a grimy, quotidian kind of next-gen hi-tech, but when it comes to metaphors, he prefers the sledgehammer.

Hollywood Reporter:

A politically charged flight of speculative fiction makes an exciting launch, only to tailspin into an ungainly crash landing in Elysium. Coming in the wake of After Earth and White House Down, this marks Sony's third big-budget disappointment of the summer, the problems this time stemming from very deflating final act script problems that one would think could have been easily identified. Like Neill Blomkamp's out-of-nowhere sci-fi triumph with District 9 four years back, this one puts rugged action and convincing visual effects at the service of a sociologically-pointed haves-and-have-nots storyline, but when the air goes out of this balloon, it goes fast.


As with his 2009 debut, the Best Picture-nominated District 9, writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up mixes sci-fi action and social parable — not consistently successfully but always emphatically. Recalling Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) by way of WALL-E, Elysium is best appreciated as an intense, brawny, effects-heavy spectacle that benefits from Matt Damon’s sympathetic performance. Unfortunately, the film’s higher aspirations — dramatic grandeur, political commentary — never come across as anything less than heavy-handed, more enjoyably overblown than genuinely captivating.

The Playlist:

With "Elysium," Blomkamp has made good on the promise of "District 9" and proven that working on a bigger canvas doesn't mean compromising on smarts or aspirations to deliver tentpole sized stories with a thoughtful backbone. And really, it's those qualities which set "Elysium" apart from the slog of sequels, spinoffs, remakes and superhero movies. It has the audacity (at least in Hollywood terms) of aiming for something original both in concept and design, and that Blomkamp's nails it in a fashion as entertaining, thrilling and memorable as this, is all the more reason you need to see it.


Maybe Blomkamp’s next one will get a shot of nuance and take a cleansing ride through a medical scanner to rid itself of plot inconsistencies. (Those who like to gripe will have a lot of “wait, why didn’t he just…?” type of complaints.) Still, this is my kind of movie. It’s visually arresting, swings for the fences, has crazy weapons, wild technology and presents a world where a cyborg can stumble down the street and no one blinks an eye. Maybe the future isn’t all that terrible?

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Elysium, Neill Blomkamp, Neill Blomkamp, Matt Damon

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.