Movie Review: Elysium

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In a dystopian future, Earth is left in slums as the world’s wealthy population escapes to Elysium, a space station just 20 minutes away from Earth where all your ills are healed and where hero Max desperately wants to live.

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Neil Blomkamp, 2013

This film stars Matt Damon as ex-car thief Max, the only white guy left in LA apparently, whose life is bitterly unfair – forced to work in a dangerous and low-paying job making robots for the elite while robocops beat him and he gets longer parole just for making a bad joke, the only bright sparks in his life are Frey (Alice Braga), a woman he knew as a child, and his adorable braid-sporting best friend Julio (Diego Luna).  Max’s life’s ambition is to live on Elysium, the habitat of the rich, the travel to which Jodie Foster’s power-hungry defence secretary Delacourt has a stranglehold.  Max gets a lethal dose of radiation and goes to people smuggler Spider (Wagner Moura) to get a ticket to Elysium, promising to do “one last job” for him to earn the ticket; downloading information from the brain of an Elysium citizen running the company from Earth while wearing a cool-looking mechanical gizmo.  Delacourt and mark Carlyle had been plotting to overthrow the government of Elysium and, terrified of the knowledge Max now has, Delacourt sends psychotic hit man Kruger after Max, who drags Frey and her leukemia-stricken dying daughter into the, er, fray.

Art by Martin Ansin for Mondo Release

Art by Martin Ansin for Mondo Release

This film from District 9 director Neil Blomkamp is another political allegory, and not a particularly subtle one.  It takes on the issues of classism and illegal immigration and comes down firmly on the side of the disenfranchised immigrants, with LA as its playground.  The problem is that it ditches the allegory for a straight shoot-em-up actioner about halfway through, and from that point on it becomes largely pretty ordinary.  Blomkamp put a lot of effort into making the world look fascinating and then little effort into actually exploring his created sandbox (much like Guillermo del Toro in Pacific Rim).  Matt Damon is fine as Max, even if his whiteness is kind of distracting when the film is really about Mexican immigrants and all of the other characters from his world are Latin American, including the film’s scene-stealing performance from Wagner Moura as the fascinating Spider, a people smuggler who cares about his human cargo and whose revolutionary ideas spark the change.  If the movie centred around him, it would be better for it (possibly with Diego Luna in the mix, as he provided a level of heart and humour that the film needed).  Sharlto Copley also puts in a good, almost unrecognisable turn as the violent and terrifyingly unhinged Kruger, an Elysium citizen who chooses to live on Earth because it allows him space for maximum carnage.  Max is an irritatingly self-centred ex-con full of bravado for most of the movie – I think everyone can guess what happens to cure his selfishness (oh, that little girl is so cute in that one scene where she gets to talk!  Gee whiz, isn’t Frey pretty when she cries!  Sexism!  Yay!) and it’s all very bland and predictable.

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Matt Damon and the fabulous Wagner Moura.

The fights are well-choreographed and the CGI looks terrific; it really is a very pretty movie when it’s not being disgusting (warning for the squeamish: you get to see Sharlto Copley’s face blown off and reconstructed in detail).  Unfortunately with the excessive handheld shaky-cam it’s nearly impossible to tell how cool the fights and graphics are, because it’s bloody hard to focus on anything.  That’s a kind of allegory for the movie, really; great ideas but too unfocused to develop them, and painted in much too broad strokes.

Elysium on IMDb

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