“District 9” was the worst movie I ever saw, so “Elysium” had to be a step up for Neil Blomkamp; the second feature film from the writer/director, however, is a great premise stuck inside a decent movie, yet the film’s commentary on governance becomes substantial when you break it down.
The overall plot even stands in the way of the themes within “Elysium.”
Its title refers to the space station hovering above earth built by the world’s super elite to escape the overpopulated and ultra-polluted planet at the end of the twenty-first century. “Elysium” picks up during 2154 in Los Angeles, where we follow car thief turned assembly line worker Max (Matt Damon) going about his hopeless existence as a member of those wishing they were on Elysium.
But after an accident at his place of work leaves him with five days left to live—don’t ask—Max has to get to Elysium, for they have machines up there that can cure any illness.
Max returns to his former employer and crime lord Spider (Wagner Moura) for a ticket up there—but he has to do something for him first: Steal the specs for Elysium out of someone else’s brain so Spider and his gang can finally get up there and make Elysium available for all.
The only things standing in their collective way are the woman in charge of protecting Elysium, Delacourt (Jodie Foster), and her favorite borderline psychotic super soldier, Kruger (Shartlo Copley of “District 9” fame).
And I almost forgot to mention: Max gets his body fully modified by Spider’s guys with robotic attachments to turn him into a superhuman so that when he goes Jason Bourne on this movie—with some of the most ridiculous, futuristic weapons ever imagined—Blomkamp can use super slo-mo to show the body parts fly in some form of a misguided Pekinpah-esque homage.
Max initially goes up to Elysium to save himself, but then he transforms into the Socialist Messiah.
He denies the audience at every occasion to be the hero—some examples of this are more startling than others—yet Max suddenly has a change of heart.
I cannot determine whether it’s clever writing or failed writing because by the end of “Elysium” it’s like Max just says to himself, “It is what it is,” and doesn’t give his actions any more thought, for succumbed to the cause he has. Maybe the point of his character’s journey is Blomkamp’s belief in fatalism; or, maybe he just thinks uprisings are an inarguable predestined event during any time period, used as leveling devices to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots.
Neither fully hold water, but the latter doesn’t leak quite as much upon inspection.
Spider’s revolutionary intent borders closer to socialism than communism—even if the c-word may be on the tips of some tongues upon viewing “Elysium”—although this spreading of the wealth seems to be at the film’s moral center. And it’s an admirable task he’s undertaken.
Funny thing is that Elysium still needs money to be run and therefore its imperialistic gains via bleeding the working class dry so they can keep their alternative living arrangement going gets hidden amidst a sloppy plot and grandiose special effects.
With themes such as this—as well as several great “2001”-type shots of Elysium—Neil Blomkamp almost had something of merit with “Elysium,” but we’ll just have to settle for this decent film instead.