Elysium continues the recent trend of movies set in the not-too-distant future, where humans have had to migrate to nearby planets to get away from the stench-ridden filth heap that Earth has become, but it’s the only one that seems truly prophetic. It analyses the current situation on Earth and quite accurately predicts what will happen to it in a couple of hundred years. Earth will be unbearably overpopulated, overflowing with sickness and disease, and the rich — who are, in this day and age, already pulling away from the rest of society — will want nothing to do with it. This thought alone is more scary than any idea Oblivion has tried to put across, and it’s Elysium’s greatest asset.
The rich have finally found a way to flaunt their wealth and parade it in front of the have-nots: They have decided not to seclude themselves on Earth, but to seclude themselves in space, in a circular space station that hovers just outside the atmosphere, away from poverty, away from disease, away from other humans. This is doubly sneaky because the station is as visible to the poor on Earth as the Earth is to it, which means that everyday, the poor are able to see what they cannot have. The space station is called Elysium, and it is a strict members-only club. Only the elite and the fortunate have access to it. You have to be rich, you have to love big properties and vast gardens, and you have to own clothes that make you look sharp and sexy. Anyone who approaches Elysium without permission will be shot out of the sky by the uber clever missiles of Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a rogue assassin who is about as charming as a scalding hot kettle.
He is controlled by another charmless human being: Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), Elysium’s chief of security. She believes that only the worthy are allowed access to Elysium, and Foster plays up this sentiment with extreme prejudice. What a tramp. She has one job: To watch the pathways between Earth and Elysium like a hawk. Any unauthorised visitors, and Kruger is on the hunt. At one point, she guns down two refugee shuttles, killing forty-something people, and doesn’t show an ounce of remorse. The Elysium government warns her to express some sort of judgement, but in her eyes, the government is useless. And so she plans a coup with John Carlyle (William Fichtner), an equally snobby rich guy who owns and runs Armadyne, the world’s leading weapons and armour manufacturer. Armadyne designed and built Elysium, which means John is the only man who knows how to reboot its entire network to restart it with a new president. How convenient.
Meet Max (Matt Damon), a poor orphan. He lives in a Los Angeles that looks more like a Rio De Janeiro. It is crowded, filled with hispanics, and is rather sandy. Perhaps countries have collided, sending a vast range of different cultures smashing into each other. Whatever it is, LA doesn’t look like LA. Max grew up with a fellow orphan, Frey (Alice Braga), and they made a promise to each other that will survive the ages and reunite them in their adulthood, whether they had planned to or not. Jump forward a number of years. Max is now an adult, but his criminal past has prevented him from getting any sort of real job. He’s stuck being a mechanic, or an engineer, for Armadyne, and when he’s exposed to a lethal dose of radiation one day, he’s given five days to live by a very uncaring robot.
He gives himself one option: Fly up to Elysium before time runs out and use one of its many Med-Pods to detoxify himself.
These Med-Pods are amazing machines. They can detect and cure any injury, disease, or sickness you might have. Face torn off by a grenade? No problem. The Med-Pod can reconstruct it to look even better than it was before, but only as long as your brain is still intact. This makes me wonder, though, is the Med-Pod strictly for healing, or can it also revive? It revives one character in the movie, but not another, and I’m pretty sure this other character’s brain isn’t damaged. If I’m right — and it can be used to revive too — then all our problems have been solved. We no longer need to live in fear of cancer or diabetes, and we can actually have immortal life.
But that’s a hope saved for another lifetime. What’s important is Max’s journey to Elysium, which is too long and complicated to detail here. All I can say is that in the process of going up there, he is given a task that, if successful, will alter the fate of every single person on Earth. This is where writer/director Neill Blomkamp forgoes the indie nature that made his debut so enchanting for a much bigger blown Hollywood approach. Elysium is grander and more confident than District 9. It’s not as modest, which is sad, because details get lost in the upgrade. The third act is a testament to this. It is a disappointing third act. Characters become flat and predictable, with hardly any motivation driving their actions. The fate of Max is not in any way rewarding, because it contradicts his whole reason for wanting to go up to Elysium in the first place. Conveniently, Frey — now a nurse — also has a reason for wanting to go up there. It isn’t great scriptwriting, nor is it great development. The lives of the people in Elysium exist outside the world they are in. Earth and Elysium stand alone, apart from its people. They are well-designed, fully engaging habitats, detailed to the very core. Compared to them, the humans look like goldfish.
Best Moment | Seeing Elysium for the first time. It is a marvelous creation; cleverly designed, with taste and style.
Worst Moment | Listening to Kruger. Somehow, Sharlto Copley wasn’t as annoying in District 9. Here, I could barely make out a word he was saying. He’s supposed to be this big bad tough guy, but his voice — and accent — make him look otherwise.