In director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the ridiculously fantastic District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013), he has created a convincingly surreal world. In the not so distant future, the rich and powerful residents from Earth have created a space station in orbit (called Elysium) while the rest of the world’s population remains on a resource-depleted Earth. Elysium is a fantasy land – it has no crime, no poverty, no problems. All residents are completely healthy due to machines that rid them of disease and age spots. Meanwhile, back on Earth, everyone is sick or dying – imagine Disney’s Wall-E (2008), mashed-up with District 9.
Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-felon trying lead a straight life even though the current establishment on earth takes advantage of people in his situation. Max has a manufacturing job on Earth assembling the robots that police Elysium and Earth. After a mishap at work exposes him to life threatening radiation, Max is likely going to die in the next few days. With the help of some classified information, an underground crime boss, and a childhood friend, Max is intent on reaching Elysium.
Now, let me stop here for a second. Elysium serves as a fine summer blockbuster. There are some demi-original ideas. There are even some enjoyable action scenes. But once the story tries to build a plot and rely on your vested interest in the characters, this summer blockbuster loses its wheels.
Elysium’s only strengths are captured during the action sequences on earth. With precise direction and editing, the battles between robots, humans, and Elysium’s thugs are always entertaining. Also, the worlds on Elysium and Earth created by Blomkamp may be some of the best images ever for a sci-fi film. However, there are several issues outside of the aesthetics. First, the villains needed to be given more of a story. Jodie Foster, who reminds me of a female Dick Cheney in this role, serves as an awkward antagonist whose accent during the film may be up for a 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio Award for worst linguistic failure in a film. But then we never understood her motivation, which caused inconsistency in her actions. Also, there are far too many holes in the storyline that left me questioning whether the director ever stopped and re-read his story. I would ruin some of the more fun twists in the story if I go on, so I won’t go into further detail.
Elysium doesn’t provide the original punch that made District 9 so unique. The action scenes and the worlds created are some of the best ever I’ve ever seen on screen, but the characters never establish their footing, due to space-station sized holes in the story. If you see this film, drink some bourbon, stick a crayon all the way up your nose, sniff some glue – and then enjoy.