Elysium

Elysium gives you glimpses of a great movie, but its potential is ultimately diminished by a very heavy hand. Director Neill Blomkamp creates a magnificent futuristic world with the juxtaposition of the decaying landscape of Los Angeles in 2154 and the 5-star space resort that is Elysium.

Who would have thought Los Angeles would still be around in 2154? I was hoping it would have fallen into the fucking ocean by at least 2054. But at least it doesn’t disappoint by being Little Mexico.

The technological aspects of this new world are masterful, but the focus on health care (or lack thereof on Earth) and the class warfare are so jumbled, bland, and uninteresting. How did we as the human race get ourselves into this position? Just haphazardly mentioning disease, pollution, and overpopulation in the opening is not a satisfactory answer for me. It wouldn’t have been hard to give us a little taste, which would have helpfully informed the plot and the characters that come from this time and world.

City

How was Elysium created? How does Elysium work? How in the hell does the political system still exist? Are all government officials living and working from Elysium? Are there separate governments for Earth and Elysium? Elysium does not seem to be self-sustaining so there has to be some type of relationship with Earth. But don’t expect any answers or effort regarding these concerns since it is so much easier to highlight the people who have (residing above in a technological heaven) and the struggles of those who have not (suffering below in hell on Earth).

I have so many unanswered questions after watching Elysium. What makes this so frustrating is that it’s not the result of a mindless writer or director as Blomkamp has proven he’s absolutely capable of addressing complex matters with a deft hand—for example, the fast food, drive through style handling of the ‘parole officer’ was just perfect. Instead, Elysium opts for the easy out as it chooses to overdramatize the plight of Max Da Costa (played by Matt Damon) and those still stuck on Earth.

While I have a fair amount of issues with Elysium (which will be discussed more fully below with spoilers), this is a good movie that you should have seen in the theaters for its stunning visuals. But my central complaint with movies like Elysium is that it is begging to be taken seriously.

I don’t have a problem with taking the subject matter seriously, but there’s also direct correlation that increases the intensity of my scrutiny when I’m supposed to consider this as a real-life scenario. Pacific Rim did not even take itself seriously, and it offered a certain amount of humor, mysticism, and self-awareness that added considerable entertainment value. There’s nothing along those lines here in Elysium, which makes it suffer a bit since the stuffy romantic relationship just suffocates the story.

Without giving up too much, I would summarize the plot of Elysium as adversity, adversity, adversity, desperation, fighting, and resolution…sort of.

Spoilers galore.

From the onset, this movie introduces itself through an extremely uninspired flashback of Max (Matt Damon) and Frey (Alice Braga) growing up in the Los Angeles wasteland and trying to cope with their awful lives as unwanted children. Max’s whole life revolves around wishing he could live on Elysium and the despair he feels about fearing that his hopes will never come to fruition.

As an adult, Max is trying to walk the straight and narrow after a stint in jail. He now works at an assembly line for the Armadyne Corporation, which constructed Elysium. A company with that type of wherewithal and technological expertise apparently still relies on humans to perform the grunt work of assembling all of their robots and machinery.

In 2154, if anything will be outdated and extinct, it will certainly be factories and assembly lines. Isn’t this already dying in 2013? Why have an assembly line and why the fuck is the inside of a mega corporation covered in graffiti? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more convenient to have a robots building robots? It’s not like there’s any type of special touch only possessed by humans to make this work possible.

But this is a necessary plot device as Max of course has to go inside of a machine to make it work, which opens the door (but actually closes it) for him to be exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. With only 5 days to live, Max’s desire to get to Elysium is intensified and he’s desperate enough to do anything to get him there. The problem lies in the fact that Elysium deals with immigrants by shooting their spaceship down before they can breathe that lovely pure air.

As a former car thief and general thug, Max has high level connections to the crime underworld headquartered in the human toilet that now is Los Angeles. Spider can get him his ticket. Spider can get anything. In order to get to Elysium, Max agrees to what is essentially a suicide mission to steal financial information from Armadyne’s CEO John Carlyle (played impeccably well by perennially underrated William Fichtner). Unbeknownst to Max, Spider, and criminals in company, Carlyle has a program encrypted in his brain to reboot Elysium so a new President can be installed after agreeing to execute this coup for Elysium’s Secretary of Defense (played by Jodie Foster).

Kruger

This raises the stakes tremendously as Jodie Foster’s character cannot afford to let this information fall into the wrong hands. I can’t recall the name of Foster’s character and it really doesn’t matter since she’s a one note, one dimensional cunt cut from the Dick Cheney mold. In order to track down Max and these thieves, a special agent/super villain named Kruger (played effectively by Sharlto Copley). Without Kruger, this movie would threaten to be a heaping pile of shit with great graphics.

Eventually, Max is forced into a corner while Kruger is hunting him down and he decides to hold himself hostage with a grenade in exchange for a trip to Elysium. Max didn’t know that Kruger had tracked down his love interest Frey and her dying daughter (leukemia or something cancerous) so the flight to Elysium is awkward—especially when Kruger and his cohorts get a bit rapey. As they are entering Elysium’s atmosphere, a ruckus breaks out and Kruger’s face gets exploded by a grenade.

Max, Frey, and Little Frey all are apprehended and essentially held hostage by the Secretary of Defense. Somehow, they put Kruger in a magical machine that reconstructs his entire face and mysteriously re-grows his facial hair. We’re to believe his brain function is still 100% normal minutes after having his face caved in and blown to bits. Evidently that machine makes him very grouchy and he stabs Jodie Foster straight in her jugular so she’s dead and Kruger has a thirst for more blood and power.

Everything culminates in a goofy, sloppy hand-to-hand (machine-to-machine) combat on a catwalk between Max and Kruger where the hero of course succeeds. Even Kruger’s death scene was uninspired. Spider was tracking Max during his whole journey using the world’s most powerful GPS tracker, and he leads Max to Elysium’s data center to upload the information from his brain and reboot all of Elysium.

Max is too far beyond being cured at this point, but he talks to Frey one last time as her daughter gets cured—which is gleefully the final opportunity for this failure of a love story. Finally, we find out why the hippo did it…to get to heaven. Max’s death will also bring about the destruction of mankind as Elysium’s central computer now recognizes everyone as citizens of Elysium and medical ships descend on Earth to cure everyone.

Please address this puzzling decision. It begs an answer if you’re supposed to take this movie seriously.

If overpopulation is one of the biggest reasons for the Earth falling to shit, then how can curing all of these diseased people be considered a good thing? Wouldn’t this just bring about our demise even sooner? Hooray! We now have millions or even a billion people now living longer and perhaps in perpetuity.

I wish Elysium came to a more creative, satisfying resolution as the rest of the movie showed signs of being something more than a dumb, fun summer blockbuster. If there was more fun to be had or some elements to hold onto beyond a serious, sci-fi adventure, then I could forgive the failures in Elysium easier.

Elysium left me wanting more, but it’s an unsatisfied sensation since it was lacking in several areas.

3 out of 5 stars

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