Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I really wanted to like this movie. When Blomkamp burst on the scene four years ago with District 9, it seemed we would have a fresh new approach to SF for years to come. Leave it to Hollywood to screw that up. I didn't expect to see a worse film than Oblivion this year, but Elysium accomplished that. They both made the same mistakes in taking an interesting premise and turning it into a generic action epic, or at least attempting it. I will say that it is at least half of a good film, based on the premise alone, but the social commentary is so blatantly biased (think the 99% vs. the 1%), there is next to no character development, enormous plot-holes, and the acting is atrocious for the most part. And yes, that includes Jodie Foster and Matt Damon. Most every character fit a clichéd type, and no one bothered to bring anything original or nuanced to their part.
Sharlto Copley's character in District 9 became somewhat sympathetic toward the end, but here as Kruger he seems a one-note baddie. I couldn't figure out his motivation...perhaps just sadism. Alice Braga does an adequate job with the material at hand, but she is little more than a pawn for the various sides to push around. Jodie Foster's accent was puzzling. At one point she is speaking French to her child and a man I assumed to be her husband, but when speaking English she had no French accent, and certainly not her normal speaking voice. William Fichtner usually makes whatever show he's in more interesting, but not here, but I blame the writing for that. Blomkamp is credited as the sole writer, but I feel sure he changed some things based on studio notes. The potential was there for a penetrating look at current problems, from health care to immigration, but it failed. The only good parts of the film are the special effects, but that is to be expected in any high budgeted film these days, but when those effects are in service of a script that makes no sense what is the point?
Unlike most of my reviews, I'm not even going to try to avoid spoilers in detailing the many faults of this movie, and I'll likely go into a lot of plot detail, so you might want to skip the next couple of paragraphs. The scenes on Earth had the same gritty, you are there, feel of District 9, while the scenes on Elysium, which is an orbiting habitat for the wealthy, were appropriately clean and utopian. Other than Foster, who plays the habitat's Defense Secretary Delacourt, and a few of her aides, we see very little of the other inhabitants of Elysium and how they conduct their lives. We know they are all wealthy or else they wouldn't be there, but are there servants and maintenance technicians, or is everything like that handled by robots? Is it coincidence or irony that Delacourt's agency is called Homeland Security? If they have such tight control of industry and the worker's lives on Earth, how is it there are groups who have the ability to build large shuttle craft without detection, and how are they able to launch those craft in attempts to land on Elysium and partake of the bounties it holds? What makes those "illegals" think their plans could ever be successful?
The habitat's President (Faran Tahir) objects to some of Delacourt's tactics, while she thinks he is soft and one of the reasons their pampered lives on Elysium are in jeopary. She concocts a plan that will alter the operating procedures of the habitat, allowing her to either become its President or giving her control over who will be chosen for that position. The new operating code is written by John Carlyle (Fichtner), an influential Earth industrialist, and then downloaded into his brain. He plans to journey to Elysium to upload that code for Delacourt. Max de Costa (Damon) works in Carlyle's factory, and he receives a fatal dose of radiation in an accident there. He wants to get to Elysium to use its medical facilities to avert his imminent death. In his past he was a thief and had dealings with Spider (Wagner Moura), who now has access to some advanced military hardware and a plan to extract information from a government official. It is simply convenient that Max chooses Carlyle as the target due to the man's indifference to Max's fate. When they are successful in tapping into Carlyle's mind, it is yet one more convenience that all they extract is that new code rather than every single memory. Then they are somehow able to interpret what that code is supposed to do but are able to rewrite it so that when it is uploaded in Elysium it will give Max the ability to grant Elysium citizenship to everyone on Earth. I know that was not Carlyle or Delacourt's intent, so how that happened is anyone's guess. Need I continue?
There are many chases and explosions, gunplay and hand-to-hand combat, with the exo-skeleton prosthetics utilized by Max and Kruger making those fights over the top and needlessly brutal. That type of hardware is probably already in development in attempts to create super-soldiers, but Elysium's medical bays are more magical than scientific. It doesn't matter though, because by the end I didn't care what happened to any of them, whether they were killed or cured. They could have completely destroyed Elysium and let its debris rain havoc on Earth and I still wouldn't have cared. With the exception of Frey (Braga) and her daughter, there wasn't a character that seemed to have any regard for anyone but themselves. I suspect Blomkamp and the studio heads are much the same, only caring about how much money they might be able to make rather than trying to tell a good story. The director already has another film in development, but based on his second effort I am less likely to be looking forward to his third.
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