Elysium doesn’t live up to the high expectations writer/director Neill Blomkamp set for moviegoers with 2009′s District 9, but Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley save it from being your run-of-the-mill dystopian-future flick.
Who’s in it? Matt Damon (Max), Jodie Foster (Secretary of Defense Delacourt), Sharlto Copley (Agent Kruger), Alice Braga (Frey), Wagner Moura (Spider), William Fichtner (John Carlyle), Diego Luna (Julio)
What’s it about? Earth is not the place to be in the year 2154. It’s grossly polluted, and its weary population is controlled by violent robots who can’t even appreciate sarcasm. All of the rich people have taken off to Elysium—a mad-made space outpost where everyone is good-looking, walks around in bathing suits, eats plump strawberries, lives in mansions and can just hop into a med-pod to cure themselves of anything.
One person who’s not living it up by the pool, however, is Secretary of Defense Delacourt. No, she’s all business, all the time. Perhaps she’s so serious because she still hasn’t figured out which accent she’s supposed to be using up there on Elysium. Or maybe it’s because she went through one can of hairspray too many to keep her helmet of a bob in place. The only thing that’s clear is that she wants total control over this utopia, which includes keeping the riffraff out at all costs. So what if she kills 50 people trying to land so that they can save themselves or their kids from life-threatening diseases? It’s just part of what comes with ensuring Elysium’s safety.
But Elysium’s president doesn’t agree. He orders Delacourt to stop employing Kruger, a certifiably nutso mercenary who’s in charge of blowing up unauthorized visitors. So Delacourt gets all defiant and plans a coup.
Down on Earth, factory worker Max—whose lifelong dream was to make it to Elysium with his childhood friend/crush Frey—finds out that he’s terminally ill. Since he has nothing to lose and much to gain by reaching a med-pod, he agrees to a risky mission set up by local crime-lord Spider.
What’s good? Matt Damon carries the movie. He plays Max just as he should—this guy isn’t an angel, but at least he still has a few morals left, as well as a sense of humor. You believe that Max would take every action and make every decision that he does in the movie, even if you wouldn’t have done the same.
Sharlto Copley is perfect as Kruger, who simply doesn’t give an eff. This dude is just sick and twisted, beyond gone. Once he sets his sights on a character, you fear for them. The rest of the cast, with the exception of Foster (who I’ll talk about shortly), was also great. In order for a post-Apocalyptic movie like this to work, you must believe that most people would be too scared or powerless to fight the established authority, and would therefore simply resign to live out their pitiful lives without making waves. But you must also believe it’s possible that a few people would find the resources to work the system, or at least be fed up enough to try. And when watching Elysium, you do believe all of this. Most of the Earth scenes are drenched in different shades of desert brown or gray, serving to heighten the drudgery and general hopelessness, as well as making for a mighty depressing contrast to the stark whites of the Elysium homes and lush greens of its lawns. You may find yourself wondering whether the world could end up looking like that in the not-so-distant future.
And, as I kind of expected after what Blomkamp achieved with District 9 on a much smaller budget, the technology and special effects in Elysium are incredible. I wish we’d seen more of the robot-drone guys, though, as the few scenes they were in were spectacular.
What could’ve been better? I am able to suspend disbelief quite easily when I go to the movies. I want to be entertained, after all; I’m not looking for a 100% realistic tale. In fact, I’m usually happiest when watching something totally fantastical. So when *I* am unable to completely immerse myself in the world I’m seeing up on the big screen because a few things just aren’t making sense, that’s a bad sign. During Elysium, I kept thinking to myself, “Man, all those people who had problems with Prometheus are going to have a field day with this one.” While the movie looks great and the dreary state of Earth is convincing, unfortunately there are plot holes galore, along with just sloppy oversights. For example, I could allow myself to believe that over 100 years in the future we’d have the kind of technology that could track someone outside of the Earth’s atmosphere . . . BUT NOT IF you’re also gonna tell me that at the same point in time we didn’t have the technology to locate a dude who’s hiding under a wooden pig crate. That’s just one of many “Huh?” moments in Elysium that took me out of the movie.
Other distracting scenes included every single one that Jodie Foster was in. I just don’t know what was up with her performance. I already mentioned her “WHERE are you from, exactly?” accent, but beyond that she was stiff as a board and like a caricature of an egotistical and power-hungry villain.
The movie’s societal themes were just as forced. What I loved about District 9 is that it didn’t shove anything down your throat. If you thought about its story—and especially if you knew Blomkamp was from South Africa— you’d probably come to the conclusion that it was an apartheid allegory. But with Elysium you will not be able to escape the class warfare, immigration and healthcare-debate parallels, and that annoyed me. And it annoyed me mostly because I know that Blomkamp has the ability to be significantly more clever.
The bottom line: Elysium was the movie I was most looking forward to this summer, and I was disappointed that it didn’t live up to my high expectations. It’s still worth seeing because of Damon and Copley’s performances and the slick action sequences, just don’t expect anything as groundbreaking as District 9.