Elysium looks great. Director Neill Blomkamp who delivered the excellent sci-fi District 9 in ’09 impresses us again with settings and characters that illustrate an extreme political/economic division.
But, while District 9 had a distinctive, creative visual style and delivered numerous surprises, as soon as Elysium sets up its story, it is easy to guess how it will likely end. Getting from start to finish should’ve been a better ride.
Matt Damon plays Max who is lucky to have his tedious factory gig in Los Angeles in 2154. The city resembles present day third world slums in places like Rio or Mumbai. When his industrial machine malfunctions, he steps inside to undo a glitch. He is trapped and exposed to radiation. When his robotic doc tells him he has cancer and will die in five days, he takes action.
While the poor schlubs labor on earth, the planet’s wealthy have taken refuge on Elysium, a giant space station. The pristine mansions and verdant landscapes look like those you might see in Palm Beach or certain wealthy Arab enclaves, such as Dubai. The real attraction of Elysium to the earthbound is access to healing machines that vanquish all diseases.
Max’s childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) has a daughter with leukemia who could benefit from a ride up to Elysium. Flashbacks reveal Max and Frey’s early bonding.
Meanwhile on Elysium, government operative Delacourt (Jodie Foster) monitors situations on earth (and keeps out the earthly lowlifes) while participating in political maneuverings at the space place. Foster has succeeded in the past playing fierce femmes, but her performance in Elysium is distractingly flat.
Sharlto Copley who was amazing in District 9 is passable here as violent government agent Kruger, who does everything he can to keep Max from making it to Elysium.
Director Blomkamp has stated in interviews that Elysium depicts not just the future, but also the present. The movie’s message is about as subtle as a 2X4 to the head. Yes, we do currently have those economic extremes presented in the movie, but most of the world’s citizens are somewhere in between.
After a spring and summer of good but not outstanding sci-fi films, I was hopeful that Elysium might be the one that would be outstanding. Sadly, it is not. But it looks great!