One of the greatest things about science fiction is that the audience gets to immerse itself in a new world with new rules, often to better understand problems that lie beneath the surface of our own world.
In “Elysium”, writer-director Neill Blomkamp uses the story of an Earth overrun with ghettos and a utopia in the sky to present a dialogue on universal healthcare, overpopulation, immigration and the ever-widening wealth gap. It’s quite a bit to fit into an action film, probably too much.
In the year 2154, the Earth has been all but destroyed from overpopulation. Former car thief Max (Matt Damon) is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while working at a robotics factory and given five days to live.
While that may seem like an insurmountable obstacle for us, the people of Elysium (a space station for the richest of the rich) have special healing pods that can cure all illnesses in a matter of seconds. This, of course, makes them nearly-immortal douchebags. Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is in charge of security on Elysium and, as she often proves, is happy to blow ships full of illegal immigrants seeking healthcare out of the sky to discourage future incidents. With a little help from local kingpin Spider (Wagner Moura) and his friends Julio (Diego Luna) and Frey (Alice Braga), Max looks for a way to get to Elysium so he can heal himself.
A few years removed from the breakout success of “District 9”, Blomkamp once again takes us to the ghetto (this time Los Angeles) for a political/action mash-up. On the political side, what makes “Elysium” feel more cluttered than his previous film is that he tries to do too much preaching within what is really not that well-written of a film. As previously mentioned, there are several different political issues being hit here and none of them are handled as well as the apartheid issue in “District 9”.
Since we’re on the subject of writing, this film really could’ve used another session to bring the script up from the shelf of mediocrity it currently rests on. None of the characters presented in the film are more than skin deep, but at least Damon and Sharlto Copley (as the villainous mercenary Kruger) try to make it up to the audience. Aside from the basic ideas it sets up and the world it creates, the writing in “Elysium” is bland and standard action fare.
Although Damon and Copley may have given it their all in the film, the rest of the actors prove that bland writing makes for bland characters. The only actor who is truly awful in the film is Jodie Foster, though. Whether she was under misguided orders from the director or the character is her own reading, I can say with certainty it is the worst performance I have seen her give in a film.
Needless to say, I was a little disappointed with “Elysium”. However, there were some really enjoyable things sprinkled throughout the film. The design of everything from the LA slums to the open-air space station Elysium is top notch. It’s too bad 80% of the film takes place in the slums because I wanted to see more of what made Elysium tick. The audience isn’t given the privilege of getting acquainted with a single member of the elite class unless you count Foster’s one-note villain who has roughly 15 minutes of screentime.
The special effects and action choreography are also great assets of the film, but yet again I have to be Debbie Downer because those same action scenes are shot with one of the shakiest cameras of all time.
Despite the negativity of this review, “Elysium” is an entertaining film. Much like the majority of other science fiction films this year, it doesn’t live up to its potential. Though not living up to expectations, it still makes for a decent use of 2 hours.