The saddest thing that can happen in film (though not entirely shocking) is when a writer or director makes a B-class film after previously stunning critics and audiences with a mind blowing movie, giving the world a sense of hope that maybe one day, someone with creative vision will save us from the closing-in walls and piles of trash (see Star Wars trash compactor). In this movie, Neill Blomkamp, the innovative genius in charge of the superb District 9, seems to have used his former success to attract attention to his predictable, underwhelming, film-gone-social-commentary Elysium. Since he only has two movies under his belt, there is going to be a lot of comparisons between the two throughout this review.
It’s the year 2154 and Earth has become a desolate wasteland filled to the brim with issues of over-population and gang-bangers. Goods and services, including medical care, have been made exclusively for the wealthy (sorry Obama).The elite have taken to the stars and now live on a giant orbiting space station titled Elysium, see the connection? On this giant ring in space, illness and injury are corrected with healing tanning beds and it is up to one man to create a bridge between the worlds and establish equality along with other basic human rights. His name is Martin Luther King Jr.
Nah, I’m just kidding. His name is Max (Matt Damon), another generic orphan character with a generic troubling youth who dreamed of going to space like every other generic 7 year old boy. But now he’s grown up from his car-stealing past and is a hard-working factory that hopes to save up enough money to join the upper class in space. Are you seeing how predictable this is?
On the way to work, Max is hassled by policing robots because he made a little joke and apparently humor wasn’t in their programming, did I mention they’re really militant? Anyways, they subdue him, they break his arm, he is late for work, he almost gets fired, and after a couple more hours, Max is left with severe radiation poisoning and has reached a dead-end in terms of job opportunities. So, he agrees to do a job with one of the local gangs so that he can break into Elysium and cure himself with one of their magical tanning beds. However, this involves attaching a robotic exoskeleton to his body that supposedly gives him super strength and makes him really bad-ass. Unfortunately, all that badassery is really never capitalized on and is instead drowned in 2nd grade plot development.
There’s also this really boring side story with Max and his childhood crush Frey who had a daughter and is also terminally ill and needs treatment. The story is very surface levels and ends with a super obvious and predictable resolution.
Then there’s Delacourt (Judie Foster), who is the big person in charge of security up on Elysium and she gathers the “immigrants” who try to sneak into Elysium and deports them back to Earth. And if the social commentary wasn’t obvious enough, Delacourt and the rest of Elysium are all rich, White and power hungry while the inhabitants who try to jump the fence over to Elysium are all poor Hispanics, like I said, really obvious.
She uses outlawed mercenaries (Sharlton Copely as Kruger) on her corrupt secret payroll to take care of special circumstances. Sadly, Copely comes nowhere close to his performance in District 9 but it is not entirely his fault. His character is bat-shit crazy and a loose cannon and, unfortunately enough, his character is boiled down to just those traits and is left as a two dimensional character with very little depth, just like Jodie Foster’s character.
So to sum it up, Delacourt is like the conservative corrupt Republican that sends her personal military to do her trash and repress the illegal liberal civilians trying to cross the border. Let me know if I can stop beating the horse… Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good social message in my films. I just can’t stand when movies dumb it down to surface level comprehension and then drop it on my head like a brick. At least District 9 had a great story and a layered script to seamlessly hold it together. While on the other hand, Elysium has a plot that lets you know how it will end half way through the movie.
The acting is decent across the board; this is primarily because most of them aren’t working with much character development anyways. The effects are fantastic and are as good as or better than those in District 9 with the same sense of gritty realism. And surprisingly enough, a few people get blown up. I mean, explosives planted to their bodies and BOOM – ligaments scattered across the floor. There are some fun action sequences but with no real surprises, they are practically useless.
The script doesn’t even come close to the same depth of character that District 9 experimented with. The presented antagonists are given no development so you don’t really care about their side of the story, and they’re as two dimensional as the robots they use. You know you have an issue when your characters feel like they were manufactured in a factory. Also, the story with Max and his childhood sweetheart is really predictable and generic. At one point of the movie, if someone would have told me what the ending was going to be, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all. All of this really takes away from the movie experience.
I had high hopes for Blomkamp. I really thought we would get another home run after the success of District 9 but apparently not. It really makes me sad to see such potential squandered.