Director: Neill Blomkamp
Screenwriter: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner
Sony Pictures | TriStar Pictures
Rated R | 109 Minutes
Release Date: August 9, 2013
In the year 2154, only two classes of people exist: the global elite, who live on a high-tech space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on the overpopulated, diseased “Third World slum” Earth has become.
“Illegals” risk their lives to escape the planet’s crime and poverty, in desperate need of the state-of-the-art medical technology available on Elysium – but Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve Elysium citizens’ luxurious lifestyle.
After an industrial accident leaves him with radioactive poisoning, 36-year-old factory-worker and ex-con Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) has only five days to get from the ruins of Los Angeles to Elysium in order to be cured. Max is outfitted with a powerful exoskeleton and kidnaps a wealthy businessman (William Fichtner) in order to steal his identity and hijack his way into Elysium. If he succeeds, he could save not only his own life, but the poor, huddled masses on Earth as well.
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9), Elysium is a futuristic sci-fi epic high on special effects and self-importance but low on emotional resonance. While not as brilliant and razor-sharp as Blomkamp’s previous film, Elysium isn’t a complete failure — shallow, surface-level disappointment maybe, but not a failure. The film’s themes and characters just pale in comparison to the ideas presented in District 9.
Take Matt Damon’s character, Max Decosta, for instance. Flashbacks show us that Max was a good kid destined for great things, but growing up in the slums led to a life of crime. Now out of prison, Max is looking to earn an honest wage and buy a ticket to Elysium. In the process, he goes from blue-collar everyman to Christ figure, crucified and resurrected as a walking computer with a heavy-duty exoskeleton that gives him the power to perform miracles like ripping the heads off robots and fighting psychotic cyborg assassins like Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
The character feels so one-note, like Tom Cruise’s role in Oblivion or Will Smith’s in After Earth, just an average joe on post-apocalyptic Earth, saddled with the responsibility of saving the world. Granted, Damon is far better than Smith, and the film surrounding him is light years better than Oblivion, but the character is so familiar, so obvious, that it lowers the stakes for the rest of the film.
I love the world that Blomkamp and production designer Philip Ivey have created, I just wish we were allowed to fully explore the Stanford torus space habitat, as it’s clearly the most interesting part of the film – but our access is limited to it, as if we the audience are “illegals” undeserving of the exquisite pleasures within. Likewise, it would be nice to gain a deeper understanding of the politics at work on the space station and get to know characters, like Foster’s Secretary of Defense who aims to lead a coup d’état to take over Elysium from President Patel (Faran Tahir).
Back on Earth, Max’s partner, Spider (Brazilian actor Wagner Moura), is an underground revolutionary who tries to sneak “illegals” from Earth onto the space station. I found this role (and Mourna’s performance) lacking, and when combined with Damon’s “just fine” turn as the world’s most uninteresting protagonist, the thrust of the film is deflated. Thankfully there’s Copley’s character who steals the film as perhaps the best villain of 2013.
Agent Krueger, like Max, has undergone several body modifications. He has weapons ports installed in his cheeks, his arms, his chest, and he’s equipped with an exoskeleton, wrist gauntlets, and a bad-ass katana used for disposing of the human garbage on Earth with. When Max and his thugs attempt to download access codes to Elysium’s mainframe, Delacourt dispatches Kruger to take them out, leading to some spectacular action sequences that feel like something out of The Road Warrior.
I enjoyed watching Elysium, but I wasn’t invested in the story or the characters’ struggles – I was amazed by the brilliant designs, the kick-ass robots, the Halo-inspired ring world of Elysium, but there just isn’t enough to Blomkamp’s second feature-length film to leave a lasting impression. In a summer filled with big-budget box office bombs and forgettable popcorn films, Elysium stands out as above-average, but isn’t as memorable and impactful as it should be.
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