All the great sci-fi movies in history have had some subtext in relation to current events. They’ve posed a stark, visually eccentric and at times grisly illustration of what’s to come in humanities future. Neill Blomkamp contributed to that pantheon of films with the amazing District 9 and tried to continue that trend with this year’s Elysium. Unfortunately, he fails to generate the same spark some were hoping to receive.
Starring Matt Damon as an ex-con trying to go bald—I mean—straight, Elysium features a grim world set 150 years in the future where the rich live off-planet in what I am assuming is a beautiful yet nauseating at times space station of the same name. There they live in ignorant bliss away from the sandy, sweaty and disease ridden Earth with many amazing amenities including champagne, fresh water, and the ability to cure any and all diseases at the push of a button. Some people like Damon’s character, Max, try desperately to get up there to escape their aliments and Earth itself. I would too, I mean, it looks super humid.
This space station is preceded over by a small government that’s regressed to the ‘all in favor’ mode of voting on decisions. The Secretary of Defense position is held by a woman named Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who without remorse extinguishes any hope for these immigrants to seek a better life with swift extermination with help from a deranged mercenary, Kruger (Sharlto Copley). Long-distance combat becomes much easier in the future thanks to rocket launcher that can quickly travel from Earth into space.
With the social barrier clearly up, creating an obvious animosity between the rich and poor, the environment and situation is ideally drawn out for a metaphor of America’s current predicament. But this is mostly a mixture of talk and eye candy. Sure, the visual landscape and ideas are all there, but Elysium quickly gets lost in an all-too familiar story of retaining morals when faced with the prize of power.
As Max is faced with his imminent death after a radiation accident, he quickly jumps back into a life of crime for a chance to go to Elysium and save himself. At first, he’s a great guy whose dreamed of going up to that glorious space station with his friend, Frey (Alice Braga). However, in the blink of an eye, he abandons all morals and good will for selfish gain. In the end, he makes the right call to save his friend—as well as everyone else. But he does so because fate put him a position to, not by his own choice. If his plan had gone the way he, well, planned things would’ve ended much more in his favor. Some may say tomato/potato but in a movie like this the actions should really come from the realization of the character in order to make its point.
Damon and Foster do a capable job in their roles, Foster being appropriately pompous and Damon having moments of charm but mostly having the look of blind determination. Both are immensely talented, but aren’t given strong or complex enough characters to really redeem or lend much weight to the simple story lended to an otherwise interesting premise . However, Copley shines in his first villain role as the absolutely insane Kruger. The innocence of his star-making Wikus Van Der Merwe role in District 9 is given a total 180, further proof of his talent.
Despite a meaty story, the case can be made that this is indeed a high-level sci-fi movie. Arguments will be made as to whether or not this is a pro 99% movie or not, even though there’s no real answer given to prove the notion correct. The brutal violence seen in District 9 is kept intact with plenty of gun battles and man-powered-by-machines fight sequences to keep the kids entertained (Though, Pacific Rim takes the man/robot cake this year). It’s action that keeps itself in tone with the story and environment, which is the best way to approach violence
So yes, a case can be made that Elysium can be near the ranks of other intelligent sci-fi movies, but I can’t fight for that case. Even with impressive visuals and a great idea, Elysium is weighed Earth-bound by a predictable story and characters to boot. But Blomkamp knows how to utilize his set-pieces, which may be enough for some people to become immersed in this seemingly realistic world and find its proposed scenario impactful. I would’ve too, but maybe I just needed a few more exo-skeleton fight scenes. They look painful, but I want one.