That Pie in the Sky
Elysium is an extremely violent sci-fi action film that satisfies half of the time. Whenever Matt Damon is on screen you’re sure to be in for the movie’s best sequences, but with a thousand subplots running alongside the main narrative, the film feels cluttered. You never really get a chance to feel for Max the way you felt for Wikus in District 9, and the rest of the film’s characters lack heart. The action, special effects, and overall aesthetic are great, and bring the dystopian vision of the future to life, and Matt Damon’s performance is fantastic. However, the small flaws in this film are like a hundred little papercuts, and nag at the whole experience.
After the smashing success of his first ever feature film, District 9, director Neill Blomkamp has followed it up with another social commentary meets explosive sci-fi action flick. This time the year is 2159. The rich and powerful have left Earth and built a utopia on a space station called Elysium. On Elysium, there is no disease thanks to special med tables that can heal any ailment from cancer to severe trauma. Sadly, it’s only the 1% that get to enjoy the pleasures of Elysium, and the rest of the human race is confined to an ever crowded, and dirty Earth.
In the ruins of Los Angeles lives an ex-con named Max DeCosta (Matt Damon), who is doing everything he can to turn over a new leaf and set his life in order. His mile long rap sheet, however, makes him prone to constant harassment from the Earth’s robotic police forces. His arm is broken in an encounter with the police, and because of this, he makes a costly mistake at his risky assembly line job. Exposed to lethal amounts of radiation, Max becomes desperate, and turns to his former colleagues in crime. Max becomes a vital piece in his boss Spider’s (Wagner Moura) plan to infiltrate Elysium, when a metal exoskeleton is grafted to his body, giving him super strength. Soon, Max finds himself hunting his old boss from the factory for codes that would grant him access to the life saving med tables on Elysium.
When it comes to sci-fi action, Blomkamp has a special knack for upping the gore and realism. Much like in District 9, the action scenes in this film are swift and bloody, which makes this film an awesome and exciting spectacle to behold at times. However, the main plot is often broken up by horrible subplots that serve to give backstory or a different perspective, but often just feel totally unnecessary. There’s a good chunk of this film dedicated to Max’s relationship with his childhood girlfriend Frey, that just feels shoehorned in to try and make Max more relateable. The subplots are also often marred by the film’s worst acting.
Jodie Foster is simply awful as the cold, calculating Secretary of Defense Delacourt. There are times when she audibly falls out of her faux French accent and her arc is cut abruptly and nonsensically short. Sharlto Copley (Wikus from District 9)once again finds himself under Neill Blomkamp’s command as the ruthless Agent Kruger, a freelance paramilitary specialist working secretly for Delacourt. He has some great moments in this film, but he also is a totally one dimensional character who lives only to be the evilest of bastards, and his sudden change in motivation towards the film’s conclusion is laughable.
Once again, Blomkamp demonstrates his incredible talent for creating a world, and the environments of Earth and Elysium are the real showstoppers here. His version of Earth looks and feels like District 9. Everything is ragged and torn apart, and Elysium is reminiscent of 1950’s America, with its picture perfect suburban neighborhoods and subtle undercurrent of corruption. Both environments serve the subtext of the story well, and bring Blomkamp’s dystopia to life. Once again, the CG department that brought the Prawns to life brings Elysium’s robotic police forces, and other futuristic devices convincingly to the screen.
Overall, Elysium is enjoyable, and one of the better science fiction films this summer, but the small flaws and weak subplots drag this film below the high bar set by District 9. Definitely give it a try, as what’s good about the film is enough to make it worthwhile, but don’t expect something truly amazing.