In director Neill Blomkamp’s new movie, the uber-rich live on a space station dubbed Elysium where they don’t have to worry about hunger, pollution and those nasty 99 percent types back on earth.
Blomkamp’s Elysium is similarly removed from all manner of political subtlety.
The District 9 director wields not an ideological cudgel but a sledgehammer in his big-budget follow-up to that respected sci-fi yarn. It’s a Pollyanna-powered treatise on health care, immigration and economics. More importantly, the script, performances and action sequences should all be thrown into a junk heap, the kind littering the Earth in this dystopian saga.
Yes, the future earth depicted in Elysium is a waste land, the product of too many people and not enough recycling. Let’s give a prize to the first director who depicts a future earth as sparkling clean, not overrun with trash.
Matt Damon stars as Max, an Earth dweller in the year 2154 whose sorry existence gets even worse one miserable day. His arm is broken by a robot sentry, his boss chews him out and he’s exposed to a deadly level of radiation on the job.
Broken and dying, he teams up with a gang of guerrilla scientists who fuse funny looking armor on him and help him to travel up to Elysium to steal some quality time in one of those healing beds the rich enjoy.
Along the way Max reunites with a childhood friend (Alice Braga), someone who exists for romantic tension but never emits so much as an electron of chemistry. Braga’s character also has a sickly daughter, and you can do the Elysium math on how she figures into this story.
Elysium arrives with the promise of smart science fiction given Blomkamp’s previous film, but nearly every element here is dumbed down until it borders on parody. Jodie Foster is pinned by the worst movie accent since Kevin Costner surveyed Sherwood Forest as Elysium’s Secretary of Defense, a woman who epitomizes the caricatures Blomkamp pretends are interesting people.
Sharlto Copley plays a bounty hunter type employed by the secretary to give Max fits, but the South African actor is given the worst dialogue of the lot–no small burden here.
The big plot device meant to bring a happy ending is so insulting you wouldn’t expect it from a Power Rangers episode.
To Elysium’s credit, once the Occupy Wall Street-approved story device clicks into place, politics take a back seat to mediocre storytelling. The film’s final third, however, is full of progressive howlers, inept tells and resolutions that are highlighted, put in bold type and otherwise made blindingly obvious.
Damon, a terrific choice for an Everyman project, is abandoned by a script that refuses to give him any texture. He’s fine as the put upon Working Joe at first, but once that bizarre armor is fused to his body his performance takes a turn for the robotic.
Elysium is a joyless cry for open borders, universal health care and damning the rich, one that doesn’t remotely care about the consequences of such actions. The film feels like the work of a liberal artist who has been cocooned in his ideology for decades and can’t fathom any opposing thoughts. Yet Blomkamp is a relatively young man, and a promising auteur who does sizable damage to that reputation with Elysium.