With ‘District 9‘, Neill Blomkamp quickly became one of my favorite directors. He not only created a realistic world infested with aliens, the film’s acting, action and politically-conscious story were nothing short of excellent. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about his second feature, ‘Elysium’. While the sci-fi flick has some good moments, it’s mostly wasted on lackluster storytelling.
In the year 2154, Earth has become overpopulated. People live in filth, work for crime lords, and are desperate to find food or healthcare. Meanwhile, just a stone’s throw away is a giant space station called Elysium, where the wealthy live in huge mansions surrounded by golf courses and oversized pools. More importantly, in every home is a machine that can fix any health issue, including cancer, severed limbs, old age and even death. Yes, residents of Elysium can live forever. Of course, the poor people on Earth don’t have access to these machines.
The story follows Max (Matt Damon), a factory worker hoping for a shot to go to Elysium some day. After an accident exposes him to deadly radiation, Max learns that he only has five days to live. Desperate to get to one of those healing machines on Elysium, he enlists the help of a crime boss, who outfits him with a mechanical exoskeleton that gives him super strength. Elsewhere, Delacourt (Jodie Foster), one of the executives running Elysium, is charged with keeping the people of Earth from entering the space station, even if that means killing children. She’s even hired a sadistic killer (Sharlto Copley) on Earth to help her with this job. Now, it’s up to Max to save himself as well as the people of Earth.
One of the main problems with ‘Elysium’ is its story structure. We don’t spend enough time with Damon’s character to really connect with him. He doesn’t seem like a particularly great guy, and his full back story is never truly revealed. Instead, we’re rushed into action scene after action scene. The third act falls apart with too many things going on at once, and wraps up with a half-assed ending that could have been much more powerful.
The visuals and design are of course top-notch. The futuristic cars, robotic police officers and Elysium itself look phenomenal. Damon does a decent job, but seems a bit one-note. Copley makes a great bad guy, even if his accent is hard to understand at times. But then there’s Jodie Foster. Good grief. She deserves a Razzie Award for this performance. It’s downright laughable and almost ruins the movie completely.
Other than a few decent fight scenes and some amazing visual effects, ‘Elysium’ loses interest quickly and fails to be very fun or entertaining. Yes, we get that Blomkamp wants to make a political message about free universal healthcare and the wrongs of the class system, but there are better ways to tell that story.