Locked out of Elysium
Elysium isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the film, Elysium is a star-shaped structure of luxury occupied only by the upper class, a distant goal for our hero Max Da Costa (fervently portrayed by a bald Matt Damon) to reach. In real life Elysium is a somewhat satisfying, somewhat eye roll provoking, all around modest sci-fi film that never quite takes off from Earth. It’ll be forgotten by the time the next big budget futuristic flick rolls around.
Did you know that by the time 2154 comes to be, the human race will be in a crumbling state of mass poverty and disrepair due to our own mistakes as a species? Of course you did, assuming you’ve watched any sci-fi movie ever, but Elysium adds a new twist to the universally foreseen situation. This time around mankind has created Elysium, a space habitat hovering just close enough to be seen from Earth’s surface. The planetoid is available to anyone rich enough to afford a ticket, and provides its occupants with vast arrays of manufactured beauty and complete medical protection with beds able to detect and cure any kind of disease. The paradise is run by a government including Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), a fangs-bared politician at risk of losing her job as immigrants continue to trespass.
Meanwhile on Earth, civilization has deteriorated to an overpopulated dirt hole where people live in rusty tin homes and children attempt robbery in broad daylight. Max seems to be the only person in the ruins of Los Angeles with a job – he works at a factory that produces humanlike albeit cranky drones (which, considering how advanced technology on Elysium appears to be, probably could have benefitted from a design update that that didn’t make it look like an armed Tin Man with a red paint job).
In one of the script’s lower moments, Max is building these droids (Douchebots? Droidbags? Ro-bullies?) and gets trapped inside a radiator, giving himself only five days to live before his internal organs fail. With nothing to lose, Max seeks the help of smuggler and hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) to get him to Elysium to heal his body. Just before he leaves, Max’s childhood love Frey (Alice Braga) shows up and asks Max to take her sick daughter with him. Meanwhile, Delacourt becomes aware of Max’s mission and assigns previously fired assassin Kruger (District 9’s Sharlto Copley) to hunt him down.
The film’s political overtones are obvious (with issues such as immigration and class division and you only live once-ing at the forefront) but nothing is as plain as director Neill Blomkamp’s involvement in many areas of the film. Elysium bears many similarities to Blomkamp’s previous film District 9 (the sci-fi themes, political overtones, and even the setting look nearly identical), but does not live up to it in many regards. Elysium merely tosses pebbles at the place where District 9 broke ground in 2009.
Other than that, the film is a straightforward summer sci-fi. The suspense is set under Matt Damon’s reliably solid lead and strong supporting cast. Foster shines especially as a venomous pixie-haired politician whose humanity slowly shatters alongside her career. There’s probably some quality stunts and thrills somewhere in the action scenes – I couldn’t be sure, the camera was too frantic to grasp what was going on. The script tells a safe but entertaining story that was weighed down at times by unrealistic dialogue (a cringe-worthy scene where Frey’s daughter (Emma Tremblay) tries to tell Max a cute story about a meerkat and a hippo being friends comes to mind). On a scale of Earth to Elysium, I think I’d rather stay home.