The Conversation

Some Reviewers Turned Off by the Politics of Elysium

Elysium, the new sci-fi film starring Matt Damon, opened Thursday. Reviewers have been modestly positive overall (the film gets 67 percent at Rotten Tomatoes) but it's clear that many reviewers were put off by the film's heavy-handed politics. Here's a sampling of comments.

  • EA more daring film might have risked putting a human (if not necessarily humane) face on the promised land’s privileged populace, but here they remain a vague, cocktail-partying blur — and, of course, that much easier to despise. Easier, too, for “Elysium” to advance one of the more openly socialist political agendas of any Hollywood movie in memory, beating the drum loudly not just for universal healthcare, but for open borders, unconditional amnesty and the abolition of class distinctions as well. But Blomkamp never makes it clear how, if overpopulation and pollution are what got us into this mess in the first place, moving everyone up to Elysium would make for a sustainable solution; he just wants us to take it on faith that it would. - Variety
  • If “Elysium” is an example of how recession-era Hollywood intends to dramatize the rift between the haves and the have-nots, let’s hope the studios don’t also bring back Smell-O-Rama. - Christian Science Monitor
  • It's like one of those bad "Star Trek" episodes, when Gene Roddenberry stopped everything on the bridge so he could lecture us about the Cold still feels a little like a sermon wrapped in a story — and delivered by laser-blaster. - Newark Star Ledger
  • Blomkamp, whose previous film was the dubious South African parable District clearly trying to say something here about capitalism and its discontents...One of Blomkamp’s most unlikely conceits is a machine – apparently standard-issue in all of Elysium’s made-to-order McMansions – that can heal all injuries and infections at the flick of a switch. He could have used one to fix Elysium’s battered and broken screenplay. - Globe and Mail
  • The action sequences are rousing, but what sets “Elysium” apart from the summer’s other boom-boom blockbusters is Blomkamp’s critique of a society riven by class and racial differences (Earth’s populace is multiethnic, Elysium’s is almost all white) and oppressed by an all-seeing surveillance state. - Seattle Times
  • With Elysium, Foster joins the ranks of outspoken liberals (hello, Tim Robbins) who can't manage to play their political opposites without turning themselves into caricatures. - New York Magazine
  • The characters seem very black and white as the more unfortunate individuals are very hard-working and caring while the better off tend to look down on everyone and only care about themselves. But if you take a closer look, then things are a little more unusual. While there are still several different cultures left on Earth, Matt Damon seems to be the only Caucasian person who hasn't made it to Elysium while it seems as though only Caucasian individuals reside on the space station. - Examiner
  • Matt Damon plays an angry and well-armed member of the 99 percent in "Elysium," the most blatantly political sci-fi movie of the summer, if not of all time...Politically -- and this movie is always political -- the idea of simply opening the floodgates feels embarrassingly naive, a grade-schooler's solution to immigration reform. Even in the context of a fanciful sci-fi film, this bit of wishful thinking runs smack into the wall of realpolitik. - Newsday
  • The message Blomkamp seems to have taken from the praise for District 9 is: more politics, less narrative wallop. Elysium, which at least triples the first film’s budget and adds Matt Damon and Jodie Foster as marquee bait, spends less time appealing to the viewer’s What-comes-next? impulse than on elaborate social metaphors. The result is a grim and predictable adventure saga that is not nimble but leaden. Dystopia has rarely been so dysto-pointing. - Time
  • Our proletarian heroes, stuck in a parched LA, gaze heavenward, shake their fists and even send spaceships buzzing at the orbiting Elysians. But not because the plebs want to destroy it: No, they want to move in.For a 99 percenter movie, then, “Elysium” is kind of a head-scratcher. It throws away its best opportunity for drama. It’s as if Han and Leia parked on the Death Star and started asking, “How much is a two-bedroom around here?” - New York Post
  • Elysium is a sporadically engaging tale, as well as a potent commentary on immigration and health care policies...There is, however, a missing component: Delacourt and President Patel (Faran Tahir) are the only Elysium residents given names. But they, like everyone else there, are essentially cardboard cutouts. Foster plays Delacourt in one megalomaniacal note. Even some sympathetic Earth residents are not multi-dimensional. A sense of fully drawn contrasting lives (not just lifestyles) would have improved a compelling concept. - USA Today
The most crushing review in terms of Elysium's Occupy politics has to be this one from Deadspin:
  • The film's premise feels engineered to get Maureen Dowd to write an op-ed about it. After ruining the planet through pollution (Think Tank Talking Point No. 1!), the wealthiest humans build their own private community (Think Tank Talking Point No. 2!) in the sky, called Elysium. There, they have universal health care that cures all diseases (Think Tank Talking Point No. 3!), while down on earth, the poverty-stricken working class (Think Tank Talking Point No. 4!) suffers and dies. When Max (Matt Damon), a reformed criminal just trying to ride the straight and narrow, is dosed with radiation during a workplace accident, he attempts to get to Elysium to cure himself, along with other "illegal immigrants" (Think Tank Talking Point No. 5!) who keep crashing the gates of privileged.

    This is all laid on as thick as it sounds. Blomkamp turns subtext into text into screaming red letters into massive hands that appear from the screen and slap you repeatedly in face. It is not enough that massive numbers of "illegals" attempt to enter Elysium; we actually have to see them through nightvision glasses, climbing over walls. It's not enough that Jodie Foster plays an obviously-Bush-era Blackwater-esque militant isolationist monster; no, she actually has to sneer "those people" when she sees two swarthy Earth residents. And boy does this movie ever have a ton of sick kids! I'd argue that the film was a neverending march of straw men, but Blomkamp barely bothers to dress them up in straw. - Deadspin
There are of course some reviewers who completely sympathize with the film's progressive sermonizing, but even they suggest Elysium is let down by a formulaic third act.


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