At the opening of Elysium, we are informed of the facts that have been repeated over and over in the trailers. Rich people live on a space station that looks like the Italian Riviera that boasts medical miracles while everyone on Earth is reduced to living in third world slums. This includes Los Angeles, where we meet Max (Matt Damon), a factory worker with a criminal past.
After an accident leaves him with fatal radiation poisoning, Max reconnects with a childhood friend (Alice Braga) and her sick daughter (Emma Tremblay), motivating him to take on the archetypical “one last job” to break into the healthcare holy land of Elysium. Trying to stop him are Elysium’s Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster) and her mercenary, Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
Elysium is nicely wrapped in the bow of the current political landscape, but it never connected with me the way that Blomkamp’s previous film, District 9 did. Both films do an impressive amount of world building, but Elysium never pulls through with a strong story. None of the characters grow or change over the course of the film, and while the film has strong momentum and a decently established MacGuffin, the pedantic insistence of explaining each and every turn of the wheel makes the entire thing feel condescending.
The premise of the film is handled well, and the world building itself is fine, but there is little to no dimension to any of the characters. As the central character of the story, Max is neither very heroic or antiheroic. He exists mainly as a way to drive the plot forward, and this also has the effect of making the Elysium political storyline feel pointless as well, since a lot of things happen coincidentally.
Additionally, I found Blomkamp’s use of quick cuts and shaky cam to be extremely annoying. There are a couple of amazing shots in this film that are unlike anything I have ever seen, but Blomkamp never lets us enjoy them, quickly moving on to the next thing. There are even points in the film where the quick cuts and shaky cam are enhanced by diegetic blinking lights, which only enhance the feeling of total disorientation. Which would be fine, except I think I would rather actually see beats.
Copely is the most redeeming aspect of the film, playing Kruger as an unhinged sociopath stepping right out of any number of video games. I say redeeming because his entrance into the plot of the film basically derails the entire thing, and peels back the curtain. This isn’t a thought-provoking film about a possible near future, this is a throwback to the science fiction/action films of the 1980s, not unlike Predator. And once I was able to put myself in that mindset, I could relax and enjoy the carnage.
Elysium opens today in Philadelphia area theaters.