Since my first viewing of “District 9” from 2009, I have anxiously awaited director Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction follow-up. “Elysium” was announced at some point last year or so, and I was practically leaping for joy with anticipation. As the release date grew ever closer, more information came pouring out on “Elysium” and it soon became evident that this was indeed not a sequel to the very successful “District 9”. Let me assure you now that if you expect this to be any kind of successor to “District 9”, you will be disappointed.
In this dystopian tale however, we are dropped into a very gritty post-apocalyptia, as most futuristic visions are and should be. It’s a brutal life for those left on earth. Overpopulation and disease has spread rampantly, leaving many living in favelas, or at least we can only assume. We don’t see much of earth outside of the village of sorts that Max (Matt Damon) lives in. As our poor as dirt (literally) humans scrap for food and work, there does indeed exist a space station hovering in space called Elysium. This of course is where the wealthy live. A huge plus to inhabiting Elysium is the ability to lay down in an updated version of a tanning bed, and with an ID printed on your wrist, you can instantly become healed of injury, anything from diabetes to having half your head blown off. I think it’s a nifty invention, and so do those on earth who pack together on a space shuttle and attempt to crash-land on Elysium to get a chance at a new life.
The two societies clash with the wealthy employing absolutely brutal robot police on earth, ready to strike down anyone who does not comply with their orders. Max is a lowly factory worker who runs his mouth a bit much. Within time, his arm is broke, and while I won’t spoil too much more here, suffice to say it becomes necessary for him to visit Elysium. This isn’t much more information than you are given by the film’s trailers of course.
Alice Braga plays Max’s love interest, and we are told they actually used to be quite close as children through flash backs. Apparently Max used to be catholic or something, and now he’s an exceptionally hardened man, dependent on survival, no matter the cost.
Damon is quite good here, and seems to pull off a bald head quite well. While we may not be completely in the know on why he acts the way he does, we are convinced that he is determined to finish his goals. Foster plays a very android-like defense coordinator of Elysium, named Delacourt. She has some kind of ridiculous plot to take control of the space station, but her purpose seems to lose its way and reason within time. She’s ice-cold, and Jodie Foster is quite good at that.
The point where “Elysium” loses its metallic luster is when we realize that Blomkamp is practically spoon-feeding us. “District 9” was obvious in many ways, but as we pulled for Copley’s character, we may not be entirely sure what Max actually stands for. It’s very clear that there is a lot of social commentary here about the rate at which our real world economies are being flushed down the toilet. The rich only get more wealthy, and the poor are forced to immeasurably more desperate means of survival. However, as we wonder about the future implications of a U.S. president that many claim is a socialist in disguise, Blomkamp’s discussion on the economy begins turning astray. If he’s not talking about that, then what is he talking about anyway? Maybe he never really was spoon-feeding us after all.
I hate to continue comparing “Elysium” to “District 9”, but where the grittiness and brutality worked in the latter, it seems not to push the thematic as well here. There is a scene involving some surgery, and while it’s no brain operation from the “Saw” franchise, it feels unnecessary. A woman is slapped hard across the face, and evil mercenaries are exploded into countless pieces. We sit on the edge of our seats, not so much for the adrenaline we are given, but perhaps only for the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomachs, hoping to God that the next death may not be so brutal. That being said, Sharlto Copley plays an absolutely ruthless villain, named Kruger. It’s really something to see. His dialogue is pretty weak, but every time he’s on-screen, we cringe.
I felt as if I have been a bit harsh towards “Elysium” but as I have encouraged in previous reviews I have written, please do not take my word for it. I hope only that what I write helps you to discover details in films and entertainment that perhaps you may have missed on your first viewing. I am not a film critic by any means, but “Elysium” unfortunately misses the mark in some areas, and those are the areas that I think matter most. I want to care for Max, but the filmmaker’s don’t truly give us the capacity to do so. This being said, take time to digest the films that you watch, and take the time to discuss them. Ingesting entertainment without discretion will not only brutalize your discernment, but will destroy your ability to willfully comprehend whatever you just watched.