Elysium ain’t no District 9, that’s for sure.
One of the saddest things that can happen in film (though unfortunately not entirely shocking) is when a writer/director makes a sophomore film that disappoints after they stun critics and audiences alike with a stellar debut, giving us all hope that maybe someone with fresh ideas has come to save us all from the rest of the dreck. In this case, Neill Blomkamp, the wunderkind behind the amazing District 9, seems to use the popularity of that film to get up on his soap box with an overly loud megaphone, and a predictable storyline that offers few surprises in Elysium, other than exploding people. And unfortuantely, with only two features under his belt, there’s gogn ot be plenty of comparisons between these films.
In the year 2154, the Earth has become ruined and is rife with the over-population of the working class. Services, including medical care, is at a premium. The rich and elite have moved off the surfce to live in a giant orbiting space station where they live comfortably and where illness and injury are easily remedied. One man on Earth takes up a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
And that guy is Max (Matt Damon). He was an orphan in his youth and dreamed of one day moving to the space station called Elysium. He had a troubled youth, getting into trouble stealing stuff. But now he’s grown up and lives the staight life, working in a factory that builds the very robots that enforce the laws on Earth, and harrass him on the streets. Are you seeing where this is going already?
These robots hassle Max while on his way to work because he made a sarcastic joke and apparently robots have no sense of humor. And their really militant. They make him late for work. He almost gets fired, things happen, and eventually Max is left at his wits end and is forced to take a last job with the old gang he used to steal stuff with. This entails grafting a powerful exoskeleton onto his body to make him super strong and badass so he can fight his way up to Elysium so he can get some urgent medical treatment.
There’s also a story involving his childhood crush Frey (Alice Braga) who had a daughter that is terminally ill and needs treatment. That story is fine an adds at least SOME depth, but ultimately fizzles into an obvious resolution.
Then there’s Delacourt, played by Jodie Foster in one of her most two-dimensional roles of her career. She’s the person in charge of security up on Elysium and she rounds up the “unauthorized” people that try to sneak onto the station and deports them back to Earth. She keeps outlawed mercs (Sharlton Copely as Kruger) on a secret payroll to take care of such nuisances. But he’s kinda nuts and likes killin’ stuff, so you know, “loose cannon”. I’m sure Copely had fun with the role, but he doens’t get any more back story than Foster. So, yeah, Delacourt is like the conservative hard-core Republican that sends her personal military out to do her dirty work and repress the undocumented liberal civilians trying to “cross the border to Elysium”. Let me know when you get tired of this brick hitting your skull.
It was so blantant I could hardly stand it. I like a good social message in my films, that’s fine. But don’t beat me over the head with it. At least District 9 had a great story and layered script to hold it together. Elysium has a story that let’s you know exactly where it’s going from about half way in, and the Delacourt character has NO depth whatsoever. She’s just a rich person trying to keep the dirty poor people off her space station.
The acting is fine across the board, but then some of the them aren’t working with much anyway. The effects are top notch – as good as or better than District 9 and with the same sense of realism. And surprisingly, a few people get blown up. I mean, explosives attached to their bodies and then – BOOM/SPLATTER – body parts and goo everywhere. Some fun, kinetic action. But with no real surprises in the end, it’s mostly for naught.
This script doesn’t nearly approach the depth of character that District 9 did. Your antagonists are given no real development so you don’t care at all about their side. They’re as two dimensional as the robot forces used to police Earth. When your actors feel like they’ve been constructed in a factory, you got problems. And the story with Max and Frey is predictable. There’s a moment where it’s as if someone just showed me a flashcard with the end written on it, and it was right on the money. That sorta takes all the fun of experiencing a film, you know?
I can’t really give more than two and a half kittenhands. I almost want to give less because I had high hopes for Blomkamp. I really thought we’d get better from him. I’m eager to see if he gives us the obvious sequel to District 9 but now I’m not sure what we’ll get when he does. I am made sad.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, very disappoinited in this one, even though one highpoint is William Fichtner. He made something out of nothing.