Elysium is the follow up film from Neill Blomkamp to his much (and quite rightly) lauded intelligent sci-fi film “District 9”. Many of the themes of that classic – prejudice and segregation – are similarly played out in this film, with the focus this time being on rich and poor and the gulf that separates them. In this case the gulf is huge in not just wealth but in physical distance, since the majority of humanity are left to fester on an overcrowded and polluted earth whilst the rich elite get to party, golf and play tennis in the orbiting space station, Elysium. As well as clean air and all the Sauvignon Blanc they can drink, the other great benefit of Elysium is the availability of free health care, with scanner-like machines that will fix everything provided you have at least some brain activity.
Matt Damon plays Max, a petty criminal trying to go straight on the surface who – for no fault of his own – is literally left with a do-or-die
mission to beat the odds and get up to Elysium. Standing in his way – in fact in the way of all potential immigrants – is the icy cold Elysium defence minister Delacourt played by Jodie Foster and her mercenary side-kick Kruger played with gusto by Sharlto Copley.
As with District 9, the film raises moral questions that are at the same time interesting, provocative and highly irritating to the viewer. For example, why can’t the Elysium elite show compassion with the use of their health technology to help those on Earth? Wouldn’t that enable the workforce to produce more wealth ultimately and leverage their resources better? This gets you thinking about the film’s obvious parallels: with the Western world being ‘Elysium’ and the African sub-continent being the ‘Earth’. Could we readily provide our technology and healthcare to eradicate diseases in Africa, if we REALLY put our minds to it, overriding for example the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical giants? The uncomfortable nature of these parallels is perhaps one reason why the film has received such polarised reviews in the States.
So what of the film itself? Well – as with District 9, the film is a joy to look at. The special effects (by Hobbit experts Weta in New Zealand) are excellent, and the set design and the little set dressing touches – for example, the Bugatti logo on the executive’s space shuttle – well done. As in District 9, weapons in 2154 are distinctly messy to use but, I guess, given the health technology can put anyone back together again the need to slice and dice sufficiently small is probably a priority! Matt Damon is as trusty and reliable as ever. Despite being great to see her on the big screen again, Jodie Foster doesn’t have the best dialogue to play with.
The undeniably cute Alice Braga plays the love interest, but suffers through the over-saccharined presence of her daughter dying of leukaemia. And Sharlto Copley makes for a memorably threatening villain, stealing many of the scenes he’s in. However, his reappearance in this film (from his starring role in District 9) and with his broad South African accent does rather drag you back into similarities with District 9 which perhaps might have been better avoided.
Plot wise, this could have been a classic, but it didn’t really deliver on its promise. Whilst the Earth-bound scenes were really good (a better depiction of our likely future than Blade Runner for example) you saw far too little of what life was really like on Elysium: for example, the politics and the day-to-day life. Who cleaned the toilets and tended all the manicured gardens? This was an opportunity missed. And some of the motivations of the characters seemed to be very disjointed: Matt Damon’s Max went from being a self-centred and extremely selfish character (delightful for a Hollywood blockbuster) to a world-changing hero without much intervening rationale; Delacourt and William Fichtner’s character Carlyle – a rather stereotypical corrupt corporate head – seemed to be rocking the boat of their positions without much reason; and Walter Moura’s character Spider went from local LA mobster to self-promoted freedom fighter in a heartbeat. A number of ‘unbelievables’ also occurred: can you really take a grenade to the face and survive?; Can you really change one line of code and change society? (and putting code live into production, without test and QA – shocking practice!!); and why could Spider’s shuttle come into Elysium and land without challenge?
Overall, those coming out of this well-attended cinema all seemed a bit flat, so for this reason and the plot gripes above (which expand the more you think about the film), the Fad Rating is pulled down from where it could and should have been.
Fad Rating: FFFf.