In the year 2154, the world is in a sorry state. Overpopulated, polluted and desperately poor, the 99 percent toil in sweatshops or resort to crime. Brutal robots keep the people in their place. The lucky one percent lives in Elysium, a space station floating above the ruined planet, where people are healthy, homes gorgeous and creature comforts abundant. Understandably, everyone on Earth wants to get to Elysium. The elite are equally determined to keep the riffraff out of their paradise.
When former master criminal Max (Matt Damon: Behind the Candelabra) gets hit with a lethal dose of radiation at his factory job, he’s given five days to live. On Elysium, one machine could repair his body in under a minute. To live, Max agrees to attempt a breach of Elysium’s defenses. Off he goes, outfitted with a high-powered exoskeleton.
Can Max cure himself? Can his raid help the people of Earth? Could director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) have created a more muddled metaphor for the injustice of America’s immigration system?
Elysium is a beautiful film.
Blomkamp creates an amazing dystopian world. Earth is dingy, dust-covered and broken. Each frame is filled with smudges, graffiti and rubble. In Elysium, everything is vivid, clean and white.
Performances, on the other hand, are terrible. Ridiculously flat in characterization, Earth dwellers might as well be labeled poor Mexicans. Elysium residents are evil white elitists.
Saddled with ham-fisted dialog and murky motivations, actors resort to shouting. Damon gets the worst of it, as his character is the bad cinema hat trick: unlikable, uninteresting and unbelievable. He’s dying of radiation poisoning until he isn’t; his character swings from collapsing to the floor to kicking soldier butt.
As the defense secretary of Elysium, Jodie Foster is perhaps the biggest disappointment. Going for a British accent and achieving sounds that suggest her throat is swelling shut, Foster minces around the space station barking orders and looking lost. Only Sharlto Copley seems to be having fun as the psychotic Kruger, a dirty Elysium agent tasked with taking Max down.
Blomkamp’s solution to immigration is no better than his characters’ acting.
He seems to believe that moving the people of the world onto a space station could solve overpopulation. But a government to manage his noble notion affords no realistic solutions for a real world problem.
More disturbing is the movie’s need for a white man to save impoverished minorities. Though the majority of Earth’s population is Latino, only blond, blue-eyed Max is strong enough to save the poor brown people.
In the end, Elysium is a beautiful spectacle with very little to say.