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Elysium: Sadly, It’s Only Decent

By Tony LaScala · August 12, 2013

Elysium, writer/Director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to hit film District 9, continues with the trend of socio-economic depression set in a sci-fi meets real world landscape. While this film did not leave me as emotionally topsy-turvy as District 9, it did offer a cool “statement filled” storyline, awesome visuals, and some kick-ass futuristic weaponry.

The story follows Max (Matt Damon), a member of the billions of citizens forced to live on the polluted Earth in 2157 while the uber rich inhabit the orbiting habitat “Elysium” just outside the atmosphere. When Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at his crummy job, he’s forced to re-enter his previous life of crime in order to hijack Elysium and gain entrance to its uber-futuristic instant healing pods. Complications arise when Defense Secretary Delacourt’s (Jodie Foster) own plans for an Elysium government coup collide with Max’s attempts to save his life, and the lives of the billions of not so privileged earthbound.

Neill Blomkamp’s screenplays continue to ooze with social statements. In Elysium his voice chiefly centers on the impact of illegal immigration and the growing separation between the lower/middle class and the upper class internationally. A majority of the earthbound poor depicted in the film are Latino, which really plays off current American political drama revolving around illegal immigration. In the film the “coyotes” that run illegal immigration shuttles in dangerous missions up to Elysium are lead by Spider (Wagner Moura) a Mexican kingpin making a fortune off of the sick and dying willing to risk it all for a few seconds in an instant healing pod.

The film struggled to grab me wholly because of its lack of character development. As an audience we were given one scene to establish Delacourt as a dictator-like protagonist, one scene to establish a love interest in childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), and one scene to establish lifelong best buddy Julio (Diego Luna) before each of them were thrust into Max’s life by some major plot point. Most of the first thirty or so minutes of the movie were used to establish the world and Max as a protagonist, leaving the rest of the film rushed to fulfill a sweeping plot heavy storyline. The story we were given was fantastically imagined; it just needed more screen time to establish an emotional connection for the films would be tearjerker finale.

The acting is hit and miss. Matt Damon may have been miscast in this film, as his believability as a car stealing street youth turned humanity-saving half robot was a bit of a stretch. The emotional arc of the character never really peaked. For the most part Damon was even-keeled, even in the face of the death of his best friend and the fulfillment of his life-long dream to reach Elysium. Perhaps this was a directorial choice, Max is so humdrum because his life has stayed so shitty for so long. But as an audience member it didn’t resonate emotionally when he was racing against time to save Frey and her child Matilda (Emma Tremblay) or battling super soldier gone rogue Kruger (played “charactery” by Sharlto Copley). For me the biggest disappointment was Jodie Foster. Her turn as the major protagonist of the film is forgettable, largely due to her minimal amount of screen time.

Despite all of my criticisms, I enjoyed the film a lot. Maybe I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi social commentary, or perhaps I just saw the potential. I was hoping for an A+++ Summer Blockbuster and I was given a B+ fun Friday afternoon. Or maybe, just maybe, I was so overwhelmed by the potential near-future presented in Elysium that I stuck my head in the sand like an ostrich and waited for the end. Decide for yourself, check out Elysium sci-fi fans.