If you’re looking for another Neill Blomkamp District 9, don’t pin your hopes too high. Elysium is a very entertaining film with powerful characters living in questionable conditions, but it is not a social commentary on the same level as Blomkamp’s previous movie. We have the rich, we have the poor, and there is this huge gap between them brimming with questions. Elysium works just fine as an action film but don’t expect it to be much more than that.
The film opens with Max (Matt Damon), an ex-carjacker with terrible comedic timing who has turned his life around with a steady factory job. Matt Damon plays this role very well. He probably won’t be nominated for it any time soon, but he is definitely good at what he does. Good job, Matt Damon. Max is a hard worker with a boring attitude who ironically only livens up after his boss nearly kills him. One quick visit to a Spider, some automail implants, and a run-in with a childhood sweetheart and Max is ready to take on the elite and bring down an already weak and extremely flawed societal system.
When Max “volunteers” for this Robin Hood mission to steal from the rich and give to the Hispanic, he agrees to let a bunch of guys (“doctors”?) he doesn’t know, who use surgical equipment for cigarette holders, drill into his skull and attach a permanent metal exoskeleton. Talk about committing to a fashion style. Also, I’m sure if Max knew before going into the procedure that the new addition to his arms, chest, and spine couldn’t be removed again like braces, he would have kindly asked them to take off his shirt before beginning. As it stands, however, poor Max is doomed to walk the earth for the rest of his life with the same dirty, bloody, sweaty t-shirt, and no possible hope of ever putting on a clean one. What. A. Tragedy.
Max’s love interest (the one who still likes him despite his unfortunate clothing situation) is there to connect Max’s innocent childhood with his less-than-romantic present. She succeeds, sort of, but the result is an explosion of sappy lines and flashbacks right at the peak of the climax. Her daughter, meanwhile, the one who is altogether too adorable for her own good, gives Max the exact pep talk he needs in order to do the right thing. They are convenient characters and catalysts to the plot, but I found it hard to believe that this trio could be happy together outside of a crisis situation – which never bodes well for a long-term relationship.
In terms of action, there is plenty to feast your eyes on, and the shots are well positioned to give you the best view. At least twice, the camera follows the main shooter as he guns down his foes, staying right on his back and moving with every little twitch that he makes – exactly like a video game. For a few brief seconds you get to feel like Player A. It’s inventive, it’s neat, I liked it. The weaponry is also creative and quite deadly, and the use of slow motion in crucial parts successfully shows it off.
Elysium moves forward at a steady pace, never dwelling on one problem for too long or dragging a scene out. There are several “oh come on!” moments, however. Not the kind that stretch the boundaries of sci-fi believability (some pretty stretchy boundaries to begin with), but the kind of exhausted frustration that can only come from human error. For example, if you have a couple of prisoners and you want to lock them up so that they won’t cause trouble, why, why would you put them in the armoury? I mean – really? There was no better place?
Like every film, Elysium has its holes. You walk away with a million theories on how a society that moves all its wealthy to a revolving space station is not only doomed to fail, but would never be feasible enough to begin in the first place. And in fact, in many places, it doesn’t feel like it has begun. Every time a non-civilian (a poor person from Earth) breaks into an Elysium home it is uninhabited. Sure the family may be out getting groceries, but… every time? And the houses themselves are polite enough to welcome the intruders into this top-of-the-line dwelling. If only all break-ins went so smoothly.
The whole Elysium concept reminds me of Wall-E, except at least the Wall-E humans had enough sense to build a place big enough for everyone to enjoy. Elysium brings action and gore together with social satire, painting a picture of what could happen one day but probably, most likely, will not. I said it was entertaining and I meant it, but as an action film. If you’re looking for anything deeper I suggest you spend the evening watching District 9…. or Wall-E. 5/10.