Elysium- Movie Review
Elysium is Neil Blomkamp second film. Though to my mind it should have been called District 9 ½. You’ll see why as I continue.
Elysium is set in the year 2154, where the Earth is polluted with filthy brown people, and toxins, and stuff. But fear not conservatives, the rich have built themselves an improbably, huge space station called Elysium. Where all of their whims are catered for. Everyone has a robot butler, and they don’t have to worry about acute radiation sickness, because they have these magic beds that will cure you of anything within about thirty seconds.
And here’s where I have my first problem with Elysium. The film suffers from what I like to call prologueitis. It’s too busy trying to set up the background of the story, instead of getting into the heart of the it.
The prologue in District 9 wasn’t too bad, because it told an interesting story of how the Prawns arrived on Earth, and how South African society at large was trying to cope. The backstory of Elysium isn’t that interesting.
We start off with a young Max (Matt Damon), and Frey (Alice Braga) meeting in an orphanage. There’s a whole bunch of wistful stares at Elysium, and Max promising to take her there one day. Along with some old, Hispanic nun warbling on about how God has a plan for all of us.
There are some cuts to the ruthless security director of Elysium (Jodie Foster) shooting down a couple of shuttles full of crippled, brown kids, and wheel chair bound grannies. After some bullocks about her trying to keep her job in the face of public outrage, we eventually get to the meat of the story. Whilst trying to clean up his act after a career in grand theft auto, Max takes a job at the local robot factory. An industrial accident caused by woeful OHS design, and probably a complete lack of unions, gives Max a lethal dose of radiation. His only hope is the magic beds on Elysium.
So he takes one last job for his old crime boss, Spider (Wagner Moura), and kidnaps his the robo factory boss, to steals the data locked up in his head. Naturally, it all goes pear shaped, and Max finds himself on the run from a bunch of psycho South African mercenaries lead by Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
At this point you can see the similarities between Elysium, and District 9. They’ve both got an apolitical protagonist, whose only interest is getting on with their jobs. They suffer an accident, are abandoned by their employer, and are then hunted by a sadistic, South African mercenary.
District 9 is a great film. It offered a perspective on a country that, though culturally significant, isn’t really seen that much in mainstream media. It was an interesting film that examined the legacy of Apartheid, through the len of a witless collaborator.
In some respects Elysium is a more ambitious film. It wants to examine issues such as trickle down economics, the impact of poverty on health, the right to medical care, and illegal immigration in the hopes of achieving a better life.
These are all what sociologist call Wicked problems. Unfortunately, wicked problems require a nuanced examination that’s very difficult to pull of in a two hour action movie. Elysium just seems to revert to the cliché that if we all pull together we can make the world a better place.
There are also a number of glaring plot holes that caused involuntary swearing on my part as I watched the film. I apologise to my fellow movie goers. If there’s a magic bed in every house in Elysium, then they’re probably as cheap as microwaves. Why don’t they have one in every hospital on Earth?
If you don’t want undesirables crash landing on your lawn, then why don’t you put a roof on your space station? It would also probably save you a fortune in air conditioning.
Why would you try, and jump a guy carrying a hand grenade in an air tight coffin flying through space? Why not just let him sit in your magic bed? Then pull the data out after? Or if you do insist on being a backstabbing knave, why not wait till your somewhere out in the open? And use one of those antique tasers you carry.
How is it that the Earth is overpopulated, but everyone lives in quite spacious, low income houses? Does anyone live in a shanty?
And the list goes on. Though fortunately, it’s not as long as Prometheus’.
Matt Damon phones it in for most of the film, but occasionally comes to life playing a cheeky, smart-aleck. Alice Braga is your stock standard, Hispanic damsel in distress, ready to be save by mighty whitey. Jodie Foster was probably more memorable for her weird Euro trash accent. But it was nice seeing her as a ruthless villain. I hope she starts playing more bad guys.
Shaltro Copley is your bog standard psycho dragon. He does however rock out an awesome Charles Manson beard.
The set design is really great. It was shot in the largest dump in Mexico, and that adds a great, exhausted Earth feel to the story. Unlike a lot of movies, the people who live in the world of Elysium really do look like they’re struggling to eke out a living.
The ships, and shuttles reminded me a lot of Chris Foss’ work. The weapons look cool, and they add a certain frenetic quality to the film.
Whilst not a terrible film, Elysium fails to live up to expectations. Then it reverts to simplistic solutions to complex problems. I give it three out of five.
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