“Elysium” is a dumb movie. While some may find satirical substance buried in the layers of special effects laden action, it would be reaching to ascribe weight to the film. And this from promising filmmaker Neill Blomkamp who shows us that more money doesn’t make for better filmmaking.
Sadly, the fault lies with the script. “Elysium” is a one-dimensional tale that is oh-so-familiar. Set in 2154, the story follows small time car thief Max (Matt Damon) living in a burned out LA. He longs to live one day on the floating utopia called Elysium. Apparently, in the future (a mere 137 years from now), the Earth’s rich have escaped our polluted and overpopulated planet in favor of an enormous space station. Up there in orbit, the elite enjoy resort style living. And every home comes equipped with a marvelous machine that can miraculously heal any wound and cure any illness.
Naturally, the masses left on Earth want access to the resort in the sky and use of the magic machine. And when Max becomes ill facing a certain death, he begins a journey that might change the planet forever. His motivation is self-preservation, which does not make him very heroic, especially when he’s given an opportunity to help someone he reportedly cares about. In his way is a defense secretary named Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who ruthlessly defends Elysium from invaders from below. She employs the ugly mercenary Kruger (“District 9’s” Sharito Copley beefed up and wired for pain).
Writer/director Blomkamp has done this sort of thing before with 2009’s “District 9.” A surprise hit, the smart and unique looking “District 9” gained Blomkamp an Oscar nomination. Aside from the merit of the story and excellent effects, many folks were impressed by how much the filmmaker was able to do with a mere $30 million dollar budget. If “Elysium” proves anything, it proves that Hollywood can’t make a movie as good as “District 9” with well over three times the money. “District 9’s” mature and action-packed classic science fiction is watered down here. All that remains are the effects (that are excellent) and the R-rated language. The latter choice is foolish–the prevalence of the F-bomb does not add one thing to the story and only cheaply gives us any sort of gritty realism that quickly evaporates during the film’s sequences on Elysium.
Science fiction fans need to pay close attention to the technology dumped into “Elysium.” According to this movie, in 2154, we are able to build a space station that looks exactly like a clean and beautiful Earth complete with gravity, oxygen (of course), and plenty of clean water. This station is run by people in rooms who sit behind screens and make use of keyboards. While we still use keyboards today, the prevalence of touch screens have given them competition. In fact, reports I’ve read have tablets out-selling laptops worldwide as early as this year. And yet, in this film, in 2154, people use laptops and program an entire space station using a keyboard. It just didn’t seem credible to me. Futurists should have been consulted.
And then there’s this magic healing machine! If such a thing existed, why in the world would you leave Earth? I mean, think about it, if you could heal any ailment (from a cold to a broken bone to cancer), why would you worry about pollution and over-crowding? Arguably starting over and leaving the ruined planet behind (a familiar Sc-Fi theme) makes some sense, but if this keyboard driven technology can create a magic healing machine for humans why wouldn’t technology exist that could clean just a little corner of the planet? To make matters worse, Elysium itself is poorly constructed particularly when it comes to defenses. In one scene, it takes a guy with a shoulder mounted rocket launcher on Earth to defend the massive moon-sized planet. What? I doubt that Elysium would be devoid of defenses.
Of course, fans of this film will be quick to point out that I’m missing the political power struggle going on in the movie, but that is a cop-out. The technology in Elysium is a slave to the plot, when needed it will bend and yield so that Max can breach its defenses. A car thief and his rag-tag group are just too smart for their foes. Ultimately, it’s all a little too hokey to take.