Elysium Movie Review
The rich live in a paradise in the sky, everyone else on the decaying surface in Elysium, Neill Blomkamp's highly anticipated follow-up to District 9, an entertaining sci-fi action film that unfortunately fails to capitalize on its potential.
Matt Damon stars as Max, a blue collar worker and former criminal who has always dreamed of going to Elysium, the space station where the rich breathe clean air and can heal themselves of any disease. After being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation, Max agrees to pull off a daring heist to gain access to the station, unaware that Elysium's secretary of defense (Jodie Foster) is planning a coup.
It's a cool story and even cooler concept. The movie looks terrific, too; there's no denying that Blomkamp is able to bring to life a dystopian, Blade Runner-meets-Mad Max society with the proper level of grit, grime and special effects. The diametric worlds are well developed and believable, at least to an extent.
But for all the cool ideas in play, Elysium never capitalizes on them. Not completely.
The movie takes a while to get going, which is fine, but when it finally does, the fast and furious ride to the climax never mounts to the level of awesomeness the film could have achieved, and also misses several key opportunities to do something more with its story. Elysium has some good action scenes but very few great ones; the final battle between Max and the psychopathic Kruger (played by District 9 star Sharlto Copley) is entertaining, but it comes too soon. I was expecting another half an hour of story development, for things to really hit the fan, but that doesn't happen.
My first thought was, "that's it?"
Much of the problem perhaps lies in the film's villains. Jodie Foster's Delacourt is ice cold, to a fault; characters like hers have been done countless times before, and even General Zod was better developed and more interesting in Man of Steel than Foster is here. Despite the build-up, she contributes little to the ultimate outcome of the movie. Meanwhile, Kruger's motivations are never clear, even if he is psychopathic; he delivers a fine performance, but his character is one-note and primarily a physical threat. Meanwhile, William Fichtner's role as an elitist businessman is eye-rolling simplistic.
The same can be said about Elysium's politics. I can buy into the rich living in paradise and everyone in squalor - that concept has been done in sci-fi since sci-fi existed - but Blomkamp's thesis that the rich are all sociopathic pigs is farfetched at best. Much more interesting would have been an exploration of the dynamics within Elysium, especially during a coup with the simultaneous invasion of "illegals" and the presence of rebellious soldiers hellbent on causing chaos. Which side would people take? Are there sympathetic people on Elysium? How would a coup really occur in paradise?
Of course, you may not care about the politics of Elysium. The movie is, ultimately, a sci-fi action movie, and as such it's decent. But even from the perspective of pure entertainment, Elysium never kicks into full gear. It's disappointing to see the characters finally converge on Elysium only to have the climax restricted to industrial tunnels and bridges, the most cliché settings in the history of action climaxes. Wouldn't it have been cooler to see a battle explode on the lawns and in the houses of Elysium's citizens? To see how the citizens would react as their world falls apart?
Elysium is not a poorly made movie; it's just one that fails to live up to its potential. Blomkamp builds a futuristic Earth with so much detail, but doesn't do the same with the titular world and its characters. That decision, or failure, ultimately affects the overall experience and entertainment value Elysium provides.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.