Dir. by Neill Blomkamp - 1 hr. 49 min.
Offiical Trailer #2
by Clayton Hollifield
I think, at a fundamental level, people are either open to science fiction or they are not. It's probably determined at a genetic level. Quick check: how do you feel when you hear a baritone say, "In a world where...?" If your interest isn't primed a little bit by just the beginning of that sentence, you probably don't need to see "Elysium." There's nothing about raggedy battle exoskeletons, near-space travel, and robot servants that's going to make a convincing case for seeing this film. There are other, more genteel movies starring Matt Damon that will be more to your liking. No hard feelings, please move along. However, for those of you who DO want to see robots and janky exoskeletons, grab some refreshments and have a seat.
In a world where the classes have become so stratified that the rich have escaped Earth to live on a plush summer resort satellite in the sky and everyone else is so poor they have to live in garbage dumps (which is pretty much what the entirety of Earth has turned into), we are introduced to a very young Max (the adult version is played by Matt Damon), who is raised by nuns, and pretty much immediately falls in love with another girl who shows up, Frey (the adult version played by Alice Braga). They dream of escaping Earth to live on Elysium (the satellite in the sky). Over time, their paths diverge, Frey becoming a nurse, and Max becoming a tattooed ex-con who works on the line at a robot factory. One of the chief differences between Earth and Elysium is that there are medical pods on Elysium that will instantly cure whatever ails you, while Earth citizens have mid-20th century resources. When an accident on the line starts the clock ticking on Max's life, getting to Elysium becomes a matter of life and death, and the only way to make that happens means turning recidivist and tackling a very risky job.
Like all good sci-fi, a decent parable is the foundation of the story. This time, "Elysium" focuses on rich vs. poor themes, particularly on what the access to quality health care means in practical terms. Even cancer goes from capital "C" to lower case "c" when you have a pod that can fix you up in about thirty seconds. But when the "haves" also choose to defend their turf (and access to that technology) with lethal force in the hands of the immoral Delacourt (Jodie Foster), those on Earth are left with only bad choices and risky choices. This is the larger point behind "Elysium." These choices are illustrated early on in the film, and turn personal when we follow Max's sudden need for a nap in a pod. He's a former big-wig criminal trying to stay on the right side of the law (with no help from the automated legal system), so he doesn't have the resources to gain access to the technology, but which leaves only a bad, extremely risky proposition as the only way out.
The action in "Elysium" is pretty good. Part of what I enjoyed about the film is that in director Neill Blomkamp's world, everything kind of sucks. That means that everything's run down and graffitied on, and the only stuff that really even kind of works is the stuff that hurts people. Although "Elysium" if rife with robots and exoskeletons, they're not awesome and flashy. This isn't a "Transformers" movie, where everything seems designed only to look cool (and with debatable results), this is a world where everything seems sourced from a sleazy pawn shop. Even Max's suit isn't really a suit; it's a bunch of metal that has been screwed onto his skeleton with power tools, over his clothes. It's a step up from normal, but it's also an outdated model. The only guys who have anything cool are Delacourt's secret mercenaries, led by Kruger (Sharlto Copley), and that's because they've been outfitted with weapons and tech from Elysium. As a result, the fight scenes are kind of ugly, and there are at least a couple of moments where the carnage is very, very explicit. That's the sort of thing that keeps a fairly violent film from seeming gratuitous - blood is spilled, and faces are graphically destroyed.
I did enjoy "Elysium" quite a bit, but I didn't think it was a home-run. The story ties up in a neat bow, which isn't so much a problem as just being hopeful. After a film that illustrates the way a system can beat down people who are just trying to exist in it, it was nice to not leave the theatre depressed. At the same time, the story does indicate that the only way to overthrow the tyranny of greed is through violent means, so if you're not in touch with your inner revolutionary, it might not be a good idea to dwell on that message. "Elysium" gives enough story to chew on, more than enough in the way of action and interesting visuals, and Matt Damon makes for a convincing main character. But this is all coming from someone who likes science fiction and high concepts (in the story sense, not in the sensimilla sense), and is very open to films in this vein. I'm not claiming that "Elysium" is great, but it's pretty good, and I'd watch it again given half a chance.
3.5 / 5 - Theatre