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Neil Blomkamp's Elysium-set in the ambiguously defined '22nd century'-is a visually appealing mess of a film that serves more as a platform for political speech than a vehicle for entertainment. Unlike Blomkamp's previous attempt at science fiction (District 9), Elysium is disjointed, poorly acted and devoid of intrigue; the film stumbles though a simplistic 'us vs. them' narrative to deliver what could have been a respectable science fiction action piece, but instead falls victim to its own heavy handedness.
Upon opening, we are informed that in the late 21st century, human beings have ravaged the planet to such a degree as to make it uninhabitable. In response to the chaos on Earth, the wealthy elite of society have built themselves an orbiting utopia named 'Elysium', while those without means are left below in a post apocalyptic world marked by crime and hunger. The citizens of Elysium keep their society closed to the 'illegals' in order to maintain their standard of living, only occasionally returning to Earth to take on various administrative roles. Into the masses of those left below is born Max (Matt Damon), a former criminal attempting to save enough money to purchase his way up to Elysium by legitimate means. After an accident at work leaves him with mere days to live, he accepts a robbery job from the local crime boss in exchange for an Elysium citizenship that will allow him the medical care to save his life. During the course of the theft, Max gains access to computer code that the evil director of Elysium homeland security (Jodie Foster) is intending to use to reprogram the master computer systems to install her as the president. The remainder of the film consists of various action sequences, a token and unnecessary love interest, all leading to the predictable conclusion of the hero using the malicious data to instead instruct the computer to make everyone a citizen, presumably spreading the utopia far and wide.
From a visual perspective the film is actually quite impressive. Most notable are the shots of Elysium itself, a large space station made up of expansive parkland and palatial homes. Earth is presented as a typical post-apocalyptic wasteland in the style of 'Mad Max' or 'Escape from LA', and while not necessarily groundbreaking in its appearance, it fits the story well enough. A major drawback in the look of the film is the dichotomy between the haves and have nots is extreme to the point of distraction. Those on Elysium have access to medical bays that cure any injury or disease in seconds, while on earth people are driving present day GMC trucks and watching flat screen televisions. Obviously the intent was to reinforce the idea that those left behind on earth must survive with outdated and substandard equipment, but since the film identifies the point of societal divergence as the late 21st century, why would everybody on earth revert to today's technology 100 years from now? Ultimately it ends up looking cheap and lazy, as if the filmmakers couldn't be bothered to create a properly immersive world.
The story itself is incredibly pedestrian and any interesting plot points are absent. I am always disappointed when a science fiction film reverts to type, as even with a story that is generic in appearance the nature of the medium offers a wide range of possibilities.
Unfortunately what moves this film from being simply average down into the poor range is a maniacal and borderline fascist preoccupation with leftist politics. The wealthy elite on Elysium (exclusively white), do nothing to assist those in need on earth (exclusively not white, besides Matt Damon's character). It is never explained or explored why the citizens are uninterested in making the lives of others better, outside of the tacit implication that, well, rich people are evil and only care for themselves. Similarly, it is never demonstrated why those on earth are incapable of building an organized society; the rich people have taken everything and there is no benevolent government to distribute wealth is the implied conclusion. The protagonist's accident is due to an overzealous floor supervisor ignoring safety and demanding greater efficiency, for no other reason then, well, corporations are evil and care nothing for their workers. The control center where incoming ships of 'illegals' are callously shot down is a transparent representation of the death star, and even Jodie Foster's dialogue is strangely looped to make her seem more mechanical. Biased and blatant to the point of propaganda, I was expecting to see the University of California-Berkeley given a producer credit. The story lends itself to political allegory all on its own, making the added rhetoric not only unnecessary but extremely distracting.
Even with engaging visuals, the film itself is an overall miss. Lackluster story, average acting and a theme of 'Occupy Wall Street in space' combine for a below average film. Four out of ten.