Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner
MPAA Rating: (for strong bloody violence and language throughout)
Running Time: 1:49
Release Date: 8/9/13
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 8, 2013
We perk up a little bit right at the start of Elysium, because here are two very different worlds that writer/director Neill Blomkamp gives us aerial tours of as an introduction to the movie. On Earth—specifically Los Angeles—is a vision of complete despair. It's a sprawling collection of shanty houses stacked on top of each other, overcrowded, and filled with poor inhabitants. Spinning in orbit around the planet is Elysium, a tranquil colony on a satellite filled with fancy homes and lush, green landscape.
By the late 21st century, Earth has become a terrible place to live with pollution and overpopulation and many other problems, so the rich built and ran away to live a secluded life of luxury on Elysium. Those remaining on Earth are lucky if they have a job. Otherwise, it's a life of crime or a slow death from not having any access to the even the very limited means that remain.
In one of the movie's more ingenious details, every element of authority is automated. The police are robots, programmed to follow the letter of the law without any sense of humor. If one makes a joke about breaking the law, it's almost a certainty that the person is going to have a bad day with a search and maybe a little bit of police brutality.
Even more devious are the parole officers, which are stationary plastic models of a human torso and head (The need for these suggests that there are a lot of people going into and out of the penal system). If one is late for a check-in by any amount of time, it's more time added to the parole period. At least these automatons can register sarcasm and human emotion, although it's only to offer medication to relax the parolee or have the parolee arrested for the federal crime of mocking a parole officer.
Details like these suggest a world that functions outside the requirements of the plot, and the overarching function of this world of Los Angeles in 2154 is to keep down the population of lower-class citizens, who aren't even deemed to be "citizens" but "illegals," simply because they aren't citizens of Elysium. The social relationship between Earth and Elysium is the exact opposite of the physical one: Life on Earth revolves around Elysium.
Sadly, the intrigue of the environment only lasts for the duration of the movie's first act. It introduces us to Max (Matt Damon), a career criminal who has gone straight and works in a factory that builds defensive measures.
After he's exposed to high levels of radiation on the job, Max decides his only chance for survival is to sneak into Elysium and use one of the many medical pods on the colony. These devices cure any disease, heal any injury (including, in the movie's most grotesque moment, reconstructing the hollowed-out remnants of a face), and serve as a ready-made MacGuffin—the only reason anyone from Earth wants to go to Elysium (The movie never answers why the Elysians keep the technology from Earth—a decision that ends up being the cause of the entirety of their security concerns—except that they are—based on the revelation of how readily available these devices are—complete jerks).
Max agrees to kidnap and retrieve information from his former boss (William Fichtner) in exchange for a trip to Elysium. Coincidentally, that man is involved with Delacourt (Jodie Foster, in a truly embarrassing turn that focuses entirely on a strange mid-Atlantic accent and lots of mid-sentence pauses), Elysium's Secretary of Defense, in a plan to overthrow the government by resetting the satellite's systems. She sends Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a merciless former spy, to get the information back from Max, whose body has been augmented with a mechanical suit that gives him super-strength.
By this point, it becomes clear that all of the movie's world-building is merely an excuse for a series of action sequences that will inevitably get Max from where he is to where he needs to go. How utterly disheartening it is to see Blomkamp, who clearly has an astute eye for putting the pieces of a backdrop together, reduce this dystopian vision to slow-motion gunshots and explosions. It's repetitive and without any larger purpose, which the movie teases us early on will be the point.It doesn't help that Max is an unsympathetic hero who becomes a transparently inconsistent one. His goal for self-survival continues even when he's confronted by Frey (Alice Brega), with whom he grew up in an orphanage, and her daughter (Emma Tremblay), who has leukemia, and it continues to the point that he quite heartlessly decides to let the young girl die, lest she get in the way of his plan (That the screenplay sets up an all-or-nothing scenario for this and other conflicts is a major part of its downfall). Of course, this can't stand, and Elysium, having decided that things such as character and theme are only worth paying attention to when all the fireworks are out of the way, just decides to make its hero a better person for no reason.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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