“District 9” director Neill Blomkamp returns with another offering about class warfare and societal segregation, “Elysium”. Only this time, his film is not quite as subtle in its themes, nor as interesting a story.
A century from now, Earth stands environmentally depleted and grossly overpopulated. The wealthy elite have abandoned the planet and live instead in an orbiting space station known as Elysium. Elysium is a lush paradise with advanced technology capable of meeting every need, including advanced medical technology capable of healing even the most severe injury or illness. As such, the residents of Elysium not only reside in paradise, they live long, healthy lives.
Below, on Earth, conditions are far less hospitable. People live in squalor, patrolled by robotic policemen, forced to work in brutal conditions in the factories of the cities. When a laborer named Max (Matt Damon) is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at work, he’s forced to try to find a way up to Elysium in order to cure himself. He turns to an underworld friend who sends people (on what are practically suicide missions) to try to fly into Elysium. It’s there that Max gets equipped with a robotic exo-skeleton that will allow him the strength to continue his mission, in spite of the weakness that comes with the sickness he’s suffering.
Elysium is having a bit of trouble in paradise, however. The Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster) is growing frustrated with the President’s humanistic policies regarding protecting the satellite. In an effort to circumvent his restrictions, she deals with a black ops specialist (Sharlto Copley), off the books. When Max and his crew hijack a wealthy citizen for his Elysium access codes as part of their mission to gain access to the space station, it’s this off the books, no holds barred soldier that they run across.
Other events complicate the picture as well. One of Max’s old girlfriends wants him to take her dying daughter with him to Elysium so she can be cured also. And the citizen that they hijack for his codes is carrying encrypted data crucial to the security of Elysium.
Will the dying Max be able to penetrate the orbiting haven and save himself, in spite of everything standing in his way?
Elysium is a visually impressive film with lots of stunning VFX shots, especially the action sequences and all of the different styles of weaponry they put on display (reminiscent of “District 9”). Damon is great, of course, as the battered, exhausted Max. Unfortunately, there’s really not much else to rave about. Sharlto Copley is more than a little overbearing with his loud, psychopathic, super-heavily accented villain. Foster plays a rigid, power hungry ice queen… its not her fault, she wasn’t given a well fleshed out character, but she’s not in the film much anyways.
Blomkamp bears much of the burden. “Elysium” is a little too in love with itself… it’s burdened with lots of slo mo, flashbacks, and “epic” scoring. At times, it comes across as cool, especially early, but by the end it wore on me and eventually felt ponderous. There’s also little to no subtlety involved with the parallels between the events of the film and social issues such as the “1%”, universal health care and immigration. Not that the heavy handedness of it was overbearing, per se, it’s just that a deft hand might have been able to turn this material into an action film with thought provoking elements. Instead, we get an action film that incorporates current social problems in a way that’s straightforward and rather plain.
Elysium is worth checking out for some of the spectacle, and it is still a decent enough sci-fi action film, but I can’t help but feel let down by how run of the mill it wound up feeling to me.