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
    War…it 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 9…is 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
    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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