In the mid-22nd century the earth has been reduced to desolation where most people live in poverty. Hanging above them is Elysium, a stylish satellite built for the country club set. Matt Damon plays Max, one of the oppressed commoners from the surface of the planet who finds he has to get to the pretty world over his head. Neill Blomkamp writes and directs a biting extrapolation of current political trends but then slathers on interminable fighting and shooting scenes. After this and his earlier ‘District 9’, he really needs to learn that too much action blunts his more interesting statements.
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Neill Blomkamp says his films are not really about the future but about the current world and it is hard to deny that the film works in many current issues that are blatantly and transparently forced into the plot. Blomkamp’s script works in wealth disparities, immigration, corporate power, labor relations, affordable health care, crime and possibly global warming.
‘Elysium’ is all about the gap between the richest one percent and the rest of humanity. In the year 2154, the gap has become geographical. The 99% live on a spoiled, ugly world filled with violence and exploitation. If that were not bad enough the 1% have to rub the world’s nose in the disparity. They live suspended in the sky is a beautiful satellite in the shape of a star-spoked wheel hung low in the sky over Los Angeles where the common people have to look at it. What keeps it in place physically is the super-science of a bit of Blomkamp hand waving. It is the 22nd century version of a stretch limo, but airborne and much bigger.
Matt Damon plays Max, an ordinary worker who is on the tatty end of labour exploitation. Now he has an extreme need to get to the pleasure satellite Elysium. This will put him in the middle of a power struggle on the satellite and pit him against Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who is making a power play for control of Elysium
Blomkamp has reasonably good ideas for his films, a little politically simplistic, but then so is ‘Animal Farm’. The viewer has no trouble understanding the unsubtle points he is trying to make. His view of the future is one of desolation in this film and ‘District 9’. He likes scenes of gritty ugliness for which he over-exposes his film under a blistering Mexico City sky for the Los Angeles sequences. His biggest problem is that he recognises that a lot of his audience are high school kids looking for an action film and he reasons that if a little action sells tickets, a lot of action will sell so much more. The second halves of both of his films were filled with fighting and shooting and killing and dying ad nauseum. His action just stops the plot dead for twenty minutes at a time and, when it is over, the only progress in the plot is that now X and Y are now dead and Z is wounded. With skillful editing, the action sequence could have been ten minutes shorter and still would have told the same story. A much better political thriller like ‘Seven Days In May’ makes clear its politics and it never stops the plot for mindless action. Cut ten minutes out of it and what is left is much less of a film and probably would not make sense.
Slowing the plot for excessive action is not just from Blomkamp. The recent ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ is really over packed with action sequences and there was very little story to ‘The Bourne Inheritance’, just action scenes. This is weak story telling making his stories the cinematic equivalent of beach reads. For what it is, ‘Elysium’ is OK, but it has ambitions to be more that Blomkamp stifles. I rate Elysium a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2013