Movie Review #792: It has great actors in it, but the underdeveloped themes and heavy-handed storytelling of ‘Elysium’ ruin its potential.

By Red Stewart

Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Rated R (contains graphic violence, profanity)
109 minutes

Similar to how director Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 hit “District 9” was an alien metaphor for apartheid, “Elysium” strives to be an allegory as well, this time for our modern-day problems, but unfortunately it tackles too many issues for its own good.

The film stars Matt Damon as Max Da Costa, an assembly worker who lives in Los Angeles in the year 2154. Like, I assume, the rest of the world, Los Angeles is ravaged by: poverty, disease, pollution, and overpopulation. Above Earth floats the large space station-habitat called Elysium, where the wealthiest of citizens can afford to live, away from the troubles below. Over-watching Elysium’s borders is its Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Delacourt is adamant on the separation between the citizens and non-citizens of Elysium, and we get a first glance at the lengths she goes through when she unremorsefully orders her henchman Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to destroy several illegal immigration shuttles.

While working one day, Max gets caught in a radiation accident that leaves him with no choice but to head to Elysium and get cured from one of its med-bays. At the same time, Delacourt, angered over what she perceives as pacifism from the Elysium council, has a program manufactured on Earth that will allow her to take control of Elysium as its new ruler. The two stories collide when Max ends up stealing the program as part of a bargain with an old “friend” called Spider to gain access to the satellite. From there, the story follows Max as he attempts to get to Elysium while being pursued by Kruger.

What made “District 9” work was that it chose to focus on only one topic for its social commentary; xenophobia for racism. With “Elysium”, however, Blomkamp has bitten off a lot more than he can chew, resulting in all the themes to be underdeveloped. We see hints at the need for labor unions as workers are mistreated and constantly threatened with unemployment at the cost of their health. There’s a touch on universal healthcare when a mother is shown desperately trying to get her daughter healed. Immigration is tackled with illegals immediately inhumanely gathered and forcibly deported through unemotional robots. And, of course, there’s the wealth gap, with Elysium representing the prospering “American dream” state and Earth the poor man’s country.

However, nothing ever seems fully realized. All these events are shoved to the background, while the fight scenes and effects are depicted in the spotlight. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the casual life on Earth for the children and adults alike. Indeed, the scenes where Max interacts with the guards, neighbors, and his boss were the most prevailing. My biggest gripe, though, came with Elysium itself. Obviously Delacourt is Blomkamp’s representation of the neo-conservative politicians in office, but are we to really expect that everyone on Elysium is like this? There’s no social movement at all?

The cast was pretty good for the most part. Matt Damon does a fine job in both the fast-paced and dramatic scenes, which reminded me of his performance in “Good Will Hunting”. Despite others claiming that Foster overacted, I actually thought she did great providing the tour de force evil her ruthless character needed. The only person I had a real problem with was Sharlto Copley. I understand him and Blomkamp are close friends in real life, but while he was excellent as Wikus in “District 9”, he (and his accent) seems so out of place as Kruger here.

“Elysium” should’ve been at least fifteen minutes longer and trimmed the action, but I did enjoy what I saw. ✴


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