Reviewed by Kemper
3 out of 5 stars with giant space habitats orbiting them.
Like a lot of people, I was eagerly anticipating Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to District 9, but while there’s a lot to like about Elysium, it doesn’t live up to the D9 standard. It almost seems like Blomkamp came up with the idea after drinking heavily and flipping channels between a cable news debate about illegal immigration and one of the Jason Bourne movies. I picture him waking up in the middle of the night shouting, “The space station is America and Earth is Mexico and I’ll give robot arms to Matt Damon to make him even more deadly!”
Part of the problem is that there’s no subtly here. Elysium is filled with spoiled assholes and Earth is made up of the common good-hearted folks just trying to get a break. Damon does an adequate job of making Max relatable, especially in early scenes where his frustration at the rigid laws and bureaucracy is boiling just under the surface. However, things are especially weak on the villain’s side. Foster’s Delacourt is heartless and ruthless. Carlyle is a greedy spineless weasel. Kruger is a sadistic killer and that’s about it even though Copley does some entertaining scenery chewing at times. None of their motives are explained, and there’s no perspective given on how Elysium can live so well when the Earth has supposedly been used up like a paper towel.
In fact, the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense in that almost everyone wants to get to Elysium simply for the medical treatments there. Yet the pods seem to work so magically that withholding them from Earth is stupid because it’d make a lot more sense for Elysium to use them to keep people in line by offering or withholding medical treatment. To universally deny it sets Elysium up as the targeted destination of the desperate and creates most of their problems.
The movie looks great visually and the contrast of Elysium which looks like the spiffiest gated community ever built against a Los Angeles which is now nothing but filth and squalor makes the point that this is definitely the Haves vs. the Have-Nots.
Blomkamp also delivers cool sci-fi action and weaponry just as he did in District 9, but he fell into the common trap of using choppy editing for many of the fight scenes so that at times it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s going on. That’s made even more frustrating because at some points there are some cool shots like a robot being torn apart by explosive bullets in slow motion that is simply stunning so it’s even weirder that Blomkamp chose to make other scenes practically incomprehensible.
At the end of the day, Elyisum is weird mix in that it’s a big action sci-fi movie that has a few too many ideas to be a pure shoot ‘em up, yet the plot lacks the kind of detail and character motivation needed to lift it up to the level required for a more thoughtful kind of sci-fi story. I cared more about the alien creatures of District 9 than I do the humans stuck on Earth in Elysium even though both stories are about the plight of immigrants in one form or another.