While I find more problems with Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium as time passes, I still come down pretty strongly for the film. No, it’s not as good as Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009), but it’s good and is easily my third favorite of the summer’s Big-Budget Blockbusters to date. Considering that most of the others have already evaporated from my mind, that’s perhaps not the highest praise. The very fact that it’s science fiction that’s actually about something other than battles (though it has them) — or feeding an existing franchise or rebooting one — is reason enough to sit up and take notice. That it doesn’t entirely succeed almost seems secondary in 2013 — a sobering realization in itself.
The film’s premise works dramatically regardless of whether it’s scientifically sound. (As long as the movie sticks to its stated concept, I neither know nor care very much about the science.) And, for a movie of this type, the plot is agreeably complex — there are at least five different agendas being played against each other. (The motivations, on the other hand, aren’t always clear.) Yes, the film is part allegory — touching on both the class divide and immigration — and meant to relate to our time as much as the 2154 setting. But the allegory isn’t as in-your-face as you might suspect. It’s even open to a certain amount of interpretation — largely because the film isn’t too specific about the way things came to this pass. All we know is that the immensely wealthy live on Elysium — a kind of space-station gated community — while the rest of us are stuck on a vastly depleted earth featuring pollution, dead-end underpaying jobs and robots programmed to maintain law and order.
At its simplest level, the story involves an earthling, Max (Matt Damon), who gets a lethal dose of radiation at work, has five days to live and is determined to make it to Elysium to take advantage of advanced medical care that can fix just about anything in a matter of seconds. At the same time, the head of Elysium security, Delacourt (Jodie Foster), is plotting to overthrow the “weak” president who disagrees with her zero-tolerance policies on earthlings. There are several other intertwined plots, but these are the basics. And it comes together pretty well.
That said, there are problems. The fight scenes go on too long. Jodie Foster’s tight-assed, one-note performance — not to mention her unfathomable accent — does the film no favors. Moreover, the film is incapable — as every film seems to be — of painting a persuasive picture of a desirable utopia. The ennui factor on Elysium must be astounding. The whole place looks like a big, bleached Beverly Hills where the occupants idle away their time doing very little. (It’s no surprise the film spends more time on earth.) Then, there are nagging questions for which the film has no answers. Earth is obviously used for labor and possibly even for growing food, but all we see are the sun-baked leftovers of Los Angeles. That’s all the film features — Elysium and L.A. — with no explanation. This strikes me as a definite problem. It doesn’t sink the film, but it does diminish it. Rated R for strong, bloody violence and language throughout.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher