Movie Review: 'Elysium' (2013)

When there was pressure to produce a sequel to his highly acclaimed debut, ‘District 9’, director Neill Blomkamp decided to go another route, instead giving the world ‘Elysium’. The Sony produced $115 million dollar project was a hefty price tag to pay, especially to a second-time feature director but the studio took a gamble.

Given the box office receipts; it is probably a decision they regret. Box office or rather public opinion doesn’t always hold the pearls of truth as to whether a movie is decent or not. In this case, the public got it right.

The plot of ‘Elysium’, in case you missed the repeated barrage of promotions leading to its release, is about a dystopian future where the rich have left earth behind and started their own satellite planet. The plot, an obvious allegory of the current Mexico/United States border control issue, serves as one of the most blatant political statements in recent movie history.

Here’s the thing, the movie approaches the subject matter in a black and white manner. There is not an attempt to make everyone on earth a saint and that is an improvement on expectations going in. To its credit, there is an attempt to be balanced in that aspect.

The plot as a bare bones premise sounds pretty cut and dry. Everyone should share in the technological advances of medicine and finer living on Elysium. That is the essential message of the movie.

However, to come to that conclusion after seeing what the movie depicts would require a certain amount of naiveté that could only be chalked up to avoiding massive plot holes. The assumption is there is enough on Elysium for everybody in the world to partake in its bounty without depleting its resources and that is too simplistic a remedy.

There are no indications of a president on earth or any summation of an orderly leadership. None of earth’s inhabitants even talk about a self-solution to their problems. The sole focus is on getting to Elysium.

As well thought out as aspects of the script are, there are major holes in the thinking. If everyone on earth inhabits Elysium, how will they keep the cycle that destroyed earth, in the first place, from happening again on Elysium? As easy as it is to wish the simple solution presented in the film is the answer, it simply begs more questions. These nagging questions are what bites away at the idealism of the film.

Stepping away from the plot and simply reviewing it as a film, there are vast weaknesses. ‘District 9’ was a much better film by comparison. The special effects in ‘Elysium’ are amazing and the overall visuals are stunning. The robot/human interaction is especially well-done. In contrast, our “hero” is vastly unlikable and there was a lynchpin angle that might’ve excused his being the savior of earth but that was side-stepped.

Max is simply not a hero worth rooting for. During the course of the film he proves to be selfish, petulant and completely focused on his sole survival. Damon doesn’t help matters, his lack of screen charisma and overall acting acumen brings nothing, in terms of dimension, to a character that is horrible on paper.

Jodie Foster gives a robotic performance that varies on catatonic as the film’s villain Delacourt, she attempts to use an accent that fades throughout the movie. The rest of the supporting cast fares better. Alice Braga is highly sympathetic as Frey, Max’s love interest. Diego Luna is effective as Max’s friend. The amazing William Fichtner’s vast skills are under-utilized in a rather thankless role.

Wagner Moura as the Che-like leader of the resistance gives a charismatic turn as the morally debatable Spider. The charisma he displays explains why, despite his terrible treatment of earthlings, people continue to follow him.

The performance that surprises most is Sharlto Copley ('District 9') in a superb turn that is the antithesis of his character in Blomkamp’s last venture and where Jodie Foster falters in the villainy quotient of her characterization; Copley more than makes up for it with a terrifying turn.

With decent pacing, Blomkamp creates an entertaining enough film but due to bad writing, not one that’s message will permeate the memory banks it was desperately trying to make a deposit in. Rating: 6.7/10