Elysium is one of those film that, on paper, I should really enjoy. It has sci-fi elements, well-known actors who have a history of disappearing into their roles and a writer/director who is currently a Hollywood golden boy.
It’s a shame, then, that I didn’t like it.
Director Neill Blomkamp’s second full-length film is similar to District 9 in that they both feature dystopian futures where all is not equal. Though Mr. Blomkamp claims that he does not place ‘morality tales’ into his films, it’s hard to dismiss the similarities between what he witnessed growing up in South Africa and the race/class divisions present in his movies.
Elysium starts out well enough. We get a few minutes of Max (Matt Damon) as a little kid, and the film jumps right into explaining his character’s motivations. It seems that Max wants to make enough money to get off Earth and live with the rich and entitled folk of Elysium, a space station visible from the planet’s surface. Unfortunately, he does this through thievery.
Max, don’t you know that you can’t get away with stealing stuff until you’re already rich and powerful? Silly kid.
Elysium itself is a beautiful self-sustaining habitat where every citizen is well taken care of. They live in opulent homes and have access to such advanced medical care that literally every bruise, break, illness or disease can be cured in a matter of seconds. They also rely on robotics to do all the manual labor as well as policing both Elysium and Earth.
Down on Earth, however, things are a little shittier. Rampant unemployment, disease, filth and the general ruination of the planet has those left behind desperate to escape. Unfortunately, their odds of even getting onto Elysium are low, as the Secretary of Defense is the very anti-poor and pro-violence Madame Delacourt (Jodie Foster).
The plot picks up when Max is exposed to lethal radiation and is given a mere 5 days to live. Desperate to save himself, he needs to get to Elysium for treatment. Fortunately he knows a guy who, on occasion, has successfully gotten people onto Elysium with fake citizenship so that they can use a medical machine for treatment.
Unfortunately, Spider (Wagner Moura) won’t just let Max hop on a shuttle for free. He has to do a little something-something first. That something-something involves being attached to a military combat suit and getting information from an Elysium citizen via brain-to-brain download.
Don’t feel too bad about the theft, as the citizen is John Carlyle (William Fichtner), the man whom Max worked for and one of the more easily hateable villains I’ve seen this year.
Once the plot kicks into gear, Max has to fight for survival against sociopathic sleeper agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley, completely unrecognizable from his District 9 character). Not one to keep things simple, Max also encounters his old friend Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter, and accidentally exposes them to danger.
After that, plenty of action happens, we get a little bit of a redemption arc, and lots of things explode.
Now, on to the nitty gritty. The acting is completely unpredictable. While Copley, Moura and Fichtner are all excellent in their respective roles, our main heroes/love interests Damon and Braga seem to ghost-walk through the film. Then there’s Jodie Foster. Her character is fine I suppose, but her accent is infuriatingly terrible. She speaks fluent French at times, yet her English accent seems oddly British…but only sometimes. The friend I saw the film with said that maybe it was an interpretation of accents changing over time (the film is set in the middle of the 22nd Century), but that doesn’t explain why Foster’s is the ONLY terrible accent.
The action is good, and the special effects are even better than that of District 9. If tickets weren’t $18.50 around here, I would have actually preferred the 3D IMAX experience.
The plot, however, really hurts the film. While the idea is there, the reality is that it’s just too convoluted. It wants to be a movie with a very deep message (whether Mr. Blomkamp wants to admit it or not), but all it pulls off is that of a forgettable action flick.
When I say forgettable, I really mean it. At one point we’re shown a tattoo with the initials of two characters (the ol’ A + B Forever kinda tat) and both my friend and I were hard pressed to actually remember the names of the characters, let alone have a reason to care about the symbolism.
Elysium is not a bad film. It simply bites off more than it can chew. If you want special effects, by all means, go see it on the big screen. But if you want something more from your sci-fi epics, I’d say wait for it to come out on disc.