In the distant future, Earth is polluted, overpopulated, and Los Angeles is basically a giant favela with poor healthcare and a strict police force. If you’re rich, however, you can live in space in the idyllic Elysium. After a radiation accident, an assembly line worker makes a deal to steal valuable information in order to gain access to the secure Elysium, where instant medical care can cure his fatal illness.
Matt Damon is our wiseguy-tough guy hero, while Jodie Foster is a ruthless Secretary of Defense seeking more power. William Fichtner shows up as a snobby suit, and Sharlto Copley (of District 9) is super sinister and bloodthirsty.
Director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) goes to great lengths to show the divides between living on Earth (or Los Angeles, at least) and living in space in Elysium. On the ground, it’s sweaty, overcrowded and trashy, as huddled masses file into factories – if they are fortunate enough to have jobs. Hospitals are understaffed, as are police stations, and the world seems to be in a static state of urgency.
Life is far more peaceful in the sky, as mansions with pools dot a green landscape, and classical music seems to play in the background wherever you go. Even the way in which the environments are filmed is different, as the camera is sun-lit and shaky on Earth, while steady and glossy in space.
They also have panaceas in space in the form of med-units that when you lay upon, you are instantly cured of any ailment, from cancer to broken bones to a shattered face. So, while Blomkamp wants to dabble in economic, political, and environment messages, Elysium is less about the haves versus the have-nots, and more about one man’s dire, barreling journey to save his own life by sneaking into one of these med units.
Matt Damon’s Max, a once idealistic young boy dreaming of an escape from Earth with his childhood love Frey, is now a lowly peon, wisecracking and getting into trouble, but not the kind of trouble that used to get him arrested. A radiation accident at work leaves Max with but five days to live, and so he takes on a job from Spider, a planetary coyote of sorts who organizes clandestine shuttles to Elysium and offers up new elite identifies.
Max agrees to a heist, allowing an exoskeleton suit to be grafted on to his infirmed body, but quickly gets in over his bald, cyborg-like head. He unwittingly lifts information that can apparently alter the entire Elysium system (in the same ridiculous but less funny way that Jeff Goldblum can upload a computer virus and destroy an alien race in Independence Day), information wanted by a power-hungry Defense Secretary (Foster) and her maniacal bounty hunter.
The attempts at a romantic storyline, as Max runs into his old flame and her (of course) hopelessly sick daughter (I wonder what can save her) and getting the two woman involved in deadly games, are meek and pointless. It’s the action where Blomkamp excels, dropping sound, judiciously using slow-motion, and constantly surprising with explosions and sci-fi tech. The second half of the film, starting with a crazed battle on earth with robots and mercenaries, is endless, bounding, jaw-dropping, blood-spilling action that will leave even the hardened of moviegoers catching their breath. Just don’t try and make sense of the message – there is none.
Should You See It?
It’s not especially dissimilar than District 9; if you enjoyed that, you’ll like this. If you thought it was over-dramatic and too metaphoric, then pass.