Going into Elysium Matt Damon and Neill Blomkamp had to deal with the fact that the film could be divisive based on its premise alone which seems to be the encouragement of class warfare. They should’ve worked on making the story a better one in the first place instead of the ramifications of the film’s politics.
Elysium has a simple setup. Rich people can kick cancer’s ass with a quick trip into a futuristic MRI machine, and helper robots, from the safety of their paradise providing space station. They also don’t want to share with the poor people on Earth, who deal with a planet that’s essentially become a third world country. Max (Matt Damon) is a reformed criminal trying to live a normal life as a factory worker when tragedy strikes. His boss forces him into a dangerous position and the evil plant owner (William Fichtner) isn’t sympathetic as Max is given five days to live because of radiation poisoning. With his childhood sweetheart (Alice Braga) in need of help in the form of her cancer stricken daughter, Max decides to do something daring with his final moments of life: get onto Elysium so he can save everyone.
Standing against him is the evil Secretary of Defense of Elysium (Jodie Foster) and her hired goon Kruger (Sharlto Copley), who wants to keep their awesome toys in Elysium away from everyone else.
It’s easy to see why the usual suspects are losing their minds over the plot line of the righteous poor man rising up against the evil rich people, who are holding up cures for cancer from the poor for their selfish reasons. This isn’t a very subtle film, not by any stretch of the imagination, but Blomkamp sets everything up to make it an interesting film. This is a world you want to really explore, as the film’s run time scrimps a lot of what could be interesting about this futuristic 2154, and Blomkamp hasn’t brought the goods in terms of story development.
With a basic premise of good vs. bad, especially one with such potentially divisive issues, there’s a lot of material to mine here. Unfortunately Blomkamp hasn’t developed anything beyond the cursory, mouth-breathing level of character development. Foster and Fichtner are evil, almost to the point where you’d expect to see one (or both) drink a puppy’s blood while urinating on a poor person, and there’s a righteousness to everyone else. Max is a convict, you see, but everything he did was for a good cause.
It’s weak, simplistic story-telling that’s done so poorly that it’s a shock, especially considering how developed and nuanced District 9 was. The film isn’t helped by the fact that Damon doesn’t bring anything new or fresh to the part of Max. He’s just a generic hero who we should root for because he’s a good person, etc, and everyone who opposes him is ruthlessly evil to near comic levels. He doesn’t have much to work with and gives just enough effort to at least make you think he cared about the project.
On the other hand Sharlto Copley seems to be the actor that Blomkamp is going to count on to bring out the brilliance in every film he makes. Copley, who turned his first ever film role in District 9 into a legitimate acting career to staggering proportions, takes a poorly written character and turns him into someone you want to see on screen by sheer force of will. Kruger isn’t a bad guy you can cheer for on any level, of course, but he’s deliciously evil. Its fun to just watch him on screen that you almost wish he and Damon could switch roles. Kruger is a hired gun, a covert operative that deals with the messes that Elysium doesn’t want to dirty itself with, and he takes this profession on with a zeal that’s almost commendable … if he wasn’t killing people, etc.
Damon as the stoic killer and Copley as the charismatic everyman trying to better himself would make for a better fit than the stoic hero and the charismatic villain that Elysium gives us. It’s disappointing as Blomkamp falls into a sophomore slump; Elysium isn’t unwatchable, or horrible, it’s just not good.
Writer / Director: Neill Blomkamp Notable Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner