There are plenty of just plain bad movies out there. Some of them are quite entertaining in their own way. For a movie to be disappointing, you’ve got to go in with high expectations – better yet, high hopes for good work from creative talent you admire. You want the new film to do well, so the same people can obtain funding for further projects. This desire is especially acute when the sophomore effort from a new director reaches the screen.
It gives me no pleasure to say that “Elysium” was the most bitterly stupid movie I’ve seen all year, a crashing disappointment from director Neil Blomkamp, who did such amazing work with “District 9.” I heard enough bad things to avoid this turkey until it reached DVD, and watched it the other night with a leaden heart.
Blomkamp seemed like he had a knack for combining fast pacing, visual spectacle, and sharp ideas in “District 9,” which I thought was far from the lazy apartheid allegory it might have been. He didn’t settle for that; he made it challenging, as well as stretching a relatively modest budget to deliver some amazing sights. In “Elysium” he gave into all the bad instincts he had earlier suppressed, delivering a film of almost sublime idiocy in the service of ham-fisted messaging about “income inequality” and open borders.
How dumb is this movie? The immense space station Elysium, where the rich folks relocated after exhausting the Earth, is an open-air space station. It doesn’t have a roof. This allows illegal immigrants in border-crashing space shuttles to try flying into the place, creating a space-age “hopping the fence” visual that will actually burn brain cells right out of your skull while you watch. Elysium’s defense against these border crashes consists of one nutjob planetside with a rocket launcher (Sharlto Copley, so good in “District 9,” reduced to a buffed-out shrieking lunatic whose dialogue is largely unintelligible.) His shoulder-fired missiles can reach into orbit.
I probably made your head hurt with that paragraph. I’m sorry. Forgive me, and think how much worse it would be if you actually watched this unbearable disaster. Imagine Jodie Foster at her career low, stinking up the screen with a ridiculous French accent, marching up to a heavily armed homicidal maniac in her business suit and giving him a piece of her mind while he’s shivering his way through a psychotic episode. Marvel at the wisdom of locking your prisoners in the space station’s armory. Wonder where the heck all those imposing police robots got off to while two guys are running amok in security headquarters. Ask yourself why the denizens of Elysium would hoard their magical – and I do mean magical – healing technology out of pointless cruelty. Try not to laugh too hard during the grand finale, which has a Very Important Message to send about unrestricted immigration, with the most asinine plot twist imaginable. Don’t waste a moment thinking about what’s probably going to happen after the credits roll.
I truly hope Blomkamp recovers from this. I want more of what he delivered during his first turn at bat. Matt Damon gets a few good scenes, if you can disregard the dimwitted plot and admire his ability to get inside his character’s head. Everyone involved with the script needs to rewatch “District 9” about a thousand times, maybe throw in a festival of the better “message” sci-fi from the gloomy pre-“Star Wars” Seventies, and try again.
Runner-up for most disappointing movie, at least as far as major studio releases go: the “Star Trek” sequel, “Into Darkness.” I can’t believe the goofy but entertaining J.J. Abrams reboot fizzled this fast. “Star Trek” defined genre creativity during its original run and long cult-classic interregnum; Team Abrams ran completely out of ideas after one movie.