With a few blissful days after Christmas to do absolutely nothing, I watched movies, got some exercise, ate leftovers, and played with my new puppy. It was also a good time to hit the Redbox. And being a sucker for big-budget dystopian epics, I decided to risk $1.10 on director Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium.”
You get what you pay for.
“Elysium” is entertaining, and the first half is actually pretty good as the pieces of the plot click into place. Matt Damon is Max, a reformed criminal who receives a lethal dose of radiation at his lousy job. With just a few days to live, he has to get to Elysium, a space station built by the super-wealthy where everyone has these nifty machines that can cure everything with a simple scan. On Elysium, cancer, aging, and every other ailment are a thing of the past.
On Elysium the elite live forever in paradise. Earth, meanwhile, is a devastated hellhole for the hoi polloi.
Plot-wise, this all works. You have a sympathetic, resourceful hero, a ticking clock, and an impossible mission for him to complete.
The film’s primary problem is that the world Blomkamp creates makes absolutely no sense. In a heavy-handed and boorish way, Blomkamp wants to create an allegory about the plight of Mexican illegals.
The space station Elysium is an obvious stand-in for evil, rich, selfish America (which in reality is the most generous and pro-immigration country in history). Those left behind on Earth are stand-ins for the illegals who desperately want to come to America.
What sinks a promising adventure is that Blomkamp puts his political agenda so far above logic that you are constantly jolted out of the story to try to make sense of why any of this is necessary.
1. On Earth, the rebels have the technological know-how and resources necessary to engineer (or maintain) all kinds of things, including rocketships loaded with passengers that can take off, fly into space, land on Elysium, and then return safely to earth.
We are supposed to believe the rebels are capable of this but cannot build one of those miracle-cure machines?
2. The desperate passengers flying to Elysium on these rebel ships are doing so as a way to gain access to the miracle-cure machines. They jump off the ship, break into some unsuspecting Eysium resident’s Mc-Mansion, toss their sick child into the machine, cure it, run back to the ship, and fly home.
And those are the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are either shot down by Elysium’s evil Homeland Security Director (Jodie Foster — who deserves better) or are caught, arrested, and shipped home.
Wouldn’t it be easier for the rebels to simply steal a few miracle-cure machines and bring them back to earth, instead of sending innocent women and children up to be killed?
3. The rebels have the technology to create the fake citizen IDs needed to receive the life-saving scan. These IDs are burned into the wrist using a sophisticated laser.
Again, if the rebels can recreate or steal this technology, why not the miracle-cure machines?
4. The rebels have the technology to hack into a person’s brain and eventually use that technology as a way to make everyone a legal resident of Elysium. (No, that’s not a joke.)
Wouldn’t it be easier to hack your way to the miracle-cure machine’s blueprints, give them to everyone on Earth, and simply rebuild them?
5. Elysium has force field technology, at least on a scale where an individual can protect one’s self from bullets.
Why isn’t Elysium using or in the process of building that same technology around itself to keep out the riff raff?
The story is just stupid. We are supposed to sympathize with rebels who send sick children to die for The Cause, when stealing or building a miracle-cure machine would not only be easier but also solve their existential problems. In a way that is purely accidental, Blomkamp makes sense. Mexico will only solve its problems when that country replicates our way of life.
Another gaping plot hole is Elysium itself, a society to which we are never introduced. We meet Jodie Foster’s character — an out-and-out psychotic, and her slightly less psychotic boss, the President, but no one else.
We also learn that these miracle-cure machines are so plentiful that they are not only found in every citizen’s home, but that there are emergency spaceships filled with these machines sitting around unused.
Is every resident of Elysium so psychotic that they refuse to send these machines to Earth or at least share the blueprints?
It just makes no sense that the residents of Elysium would prefer to hoard hundreds (maybe thousands) of extra machines (not to mention the blueprints), when the result is innocent people dying needlessly and/or finding themselves under constant threat from the rebels.
Had Blomkamp offered a glimpse at the Elysium society, it might have helped make some sense of his story. Maybe the human by-product of an Elysium is the devolution of the human spirit into something like the hippy-dippy narcissist Eloi in HG Wells “Time Machine.” Maybe they are all white supremacists? (Well, no, the president is Indian.) But this is never explained, and the result is a film that is so wildly illogical and full of plot-holes you can never suspend disbelief.
But this is what always happens when you put your mindless politics above your art.
If you are going to make a movie this stupid, you shouldn’t take yourself so seriously.
Finally, left-wing critics should have found Elysium at best to be “racially insensitive.” All the victims are non-white, but who’s the liberal hero who saves them? Whiter-than-white Matt Damon.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC