The Film Formula: Elysium

The Film Formula: Elysium

We analyse the familiar elements in the Matt Damon-starring sci-fi action flick

The Film Formula is our series aimed at boiling down big releases to their most basic elements. This time round, it’s Elysium

We'll start with the obvious one: Elysium is the second feature-length film directed by Neill Blomkamp, who previously gave us the rather wonderful District 9. His new movie shares so much DNA with his old one it's almost like a spiritual sequel: a sci-fi blockbuster with a social commentary subtext, contrasting the lives of ghetto inhabitants with society's much more comfortable higher-ups. Both films also contain a love for body modification, big-ass guns and Sharlto Copley (the District 9 star shows up as a psychotic merc in Elysium).

Elysium's body-mods are a little less organic than those in D9 though – their mechanical (rather than biological) nature owe a lot more to the likes of Robocop, in which the nearly-deceased Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is rejuvenated thanks to robotic implants (much as Matt Damon's terminally ill Max is strengthened by his). There's also a hint of the class warrior in both films – just as Murphy uses his cyber-abilities to take on the real villains at Omnicorp, so Max uses his new robotic exo-skeleton to upset the status quo at elite space-haven Elysium, presided over by a frosty Jodie Foster.

Hang on – Jodie Foster playing an ice-cold power player? Why, that's not a far cry from the role she played in Spike Lee's Inside Man. In that movie, she was the mysterious fixer, holding her own in a male-dominated world and making deals with players at all levels, from shady bankers to street cops. In Elysium, she's a bloody-minded politician, holding her own in a male-dominated world and making deals with players at all levels, from shady business CEOs to murderous mercs.

The notion of an Earth-bound grunt infiltrating an orbiting colony sets alarm bells ringing as well – if you think about it, that's the plot of ludicrous (but nevertheless enjoyable) 2012 sci-fi Lockout, which cast Guy Pearce in the Matt Damon role. Ok, so you have to substitute 'space haven' with 'space prison', 'society's elite' with 'mental prisoners' and 'upset the status quo' with 'save the president's daughter', but other than that it's pretty much identical.

If you felt that was a bit of a stretch, we'll have to ask you to bear with us while we also chuck in a bit of 8 Mile. Seriously – observe Matt Damon's position as a blue-collar factory worker trapped in the ghetto and struggling to get on with his supervisor, and tell us it doesn't bear at least a passing resemblance to that of Eminem in his hop hop semi-biopic. The 8 Mile link would be even stronger if Blomkamp had his way – Damon was his third choice to play Max, after both Eminem and Die Antwoord's Ninja turned it down.

District 9 / Robocop + (Inside Man + 8 Mile) x Lockout = Elysium

Elysium Official Extended Trailer (2013) - Matt Damon Sci-Fi Movie HD


  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • US
  • 1h 49min
  • Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
  • UK release: 21 August 2013

Blomkamp's eagerly awaited follow-up to the critically acclaimed District 9 features Damon and Foster on another planet in the distant future.