ElysiumSynopsis: In the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) will stop at nothing to preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium – but that doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in by any means they can. Max (Matt Damon) agrees to take on a life threatening mission, one that could bring equality to these polarized worlds.


Elysium 7.75

eyelights: the basic concept. Matt Damon. Jodie Foster.
eyesores: the third act. the poorly-conceived security measures on Elysium

“Please sign this to receive medication. Miporol, extremely potent, will keep you functioning normally until your death. Please take one pill with each meal. Thank you for your service.”

‘Elysium’ is a motion picture by Neill Blomkamp, the writer-director of ‘District 9‘. Unlike a lot of people, I was disappointed with ‘District 9’; while it discussed some important social issues, it placed them more on the periphery, focusing on mindless action sequences instead. From my perspective, there are plenty of action films around, and a passing glance at racism, xenophobia and defense outsourcing doesn’t make one deep – no matter what fans argue.

So, naturally, I was in no hurry to see Blomkamp’s follow-up, ‘Elysium’. I figured that if the last one didn’t live up to such incredible hype, this one likely wouldn’t either. Add to this the fact that the lead actor was Matt Damon, whom I enjoyed more before he decided to become an action star, and there was no pull. But a friend of mine had rented it on DVD, and I wasn’t entirely averse to seeing it. So a few of us gathered to watch it together one Saturday night.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed ‘Elysium’ a lot more than ‘District 9’. Call it a case of lowered expectations if you must, but I felt that it provided a better balance of action, suspense and socio-political commentary. It has its fair share of problems, however, which I will rant about in a moment, but at least it spent a lot of time putting a spotlight on its dismal future  – one that is an unfortunate extension of our present unless we bring about significant societal change.

In the world of ‘Elysium’, Earth is devastated by pollution, environmental degradation, overpopulation and rampant poverty. The rich have built a space station called Elysium to which they’ve escaped so that they may maintain their way of life, exploiting the Earth-bound masses to sustain their lifestyles. They have consistent, permanent, access to peace, prosperity and health, and are even able to postpone the process of aging by using Med-Bays – something the poor don’t have access to.

In our story, Matt Damon plays Max, a former car thief now on parole, trying to leave his former life behind. His old gang of friends mock him every day as he goes to work at the factory, he gets harassed by the robotic police enforcers, and is abused at work by his employers. He grits his teeth and bears it, in the hope of a better life for himself. But all of this would change when a work accident leaves him with only five days to live: he now has to find a way to survive – at all costs.

His only hope: a Med-Bay. The only place he knows where to find one: Elysium.

We all know where the film goes from there. Thankfully, ‘Elysium’ explores the theme of social injustice in many fits throughout, effectively buoying what would otherwise be yet another unremarkable sci-fi actioner. It also throws in some power struggles on Elysium itself, compounding the notion that this secluded, seemingly idyllic, sanctuary is actually anything but. However, the script is so full of nonsense that I couldn’t fully immerse myself in the picture.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

For example:The first blatant issue is the lack of security surrounding Elysium:

1. There is no system in place to prevent unauthorized vehicles from approaching Elysium, even though it seems natural that its entitled residents would want protection from so-called undesirables. Nope, not here. For some reason, the Defense Secretary (Jodie Foster) had to enlist a covert operative from Earth’s surface to shoot intruders down. Not only is that short-sighted, but in using this method they risk the possibility that the surface attack will miss its intended target and hit Elysium by mistake. Duh.

2. When a ship crashes on Elysium, for some reason it takes 15-20 minutes before there’s any response from security. Given that everyone’s on high alert, knowing full well that the ships were approaching, you’d think that Security would be on standby. Nope. The ship’s passengers had plenty of time to get into gun fights and cause further damage, while Security took a nap – and Security consists of the same robot police that harasses people over the slightest thing on Earth!

3. Um… why would the President of Elysium lead the charge with Security when the outpost is under attack? He’s the President for goodness’ sake! He should be discretely hidden away in a secure location until the crisis is averted! One could possibly argue that, since the system reboot, there was a new President, and thus this guy was disposable. Except that the reboot never actually seemed to happen – he was still acknowledged as the President by the Security forces.

4. Speaking of which, why oh why is there an armory on Elysium if there is no/or very little Security? First off, it seems as though having weapons would be a horrible idea on an orbiting station – think of the impact any damage it sustains might have (loss of oxygen, implosion, death of many/all residents). Worst case scenario, they should have stun guns – not massively powerful guns like they do in the movie. Secondly, aren’t they redundant, given that they have robot Security forces?

These massive problems are already a challenge to overlook, and yet, on top of the orbiting station’s unbelievably illogical security issues, there are a few other bits of notable nonsense in ‘Elysium’:

  • If it is possible to use a Med-Bay to reconstruct Kruger’s face and bring him back to life because his brain was intact, then why didn’t they just do the same with Armadyne Corp CEO Carlyle? Wouldn’t restoring him have been an easier and better plan than chasing Max and his second-hand data, given that Carlyle held first-generation data in his brain?
  • If the data is encrypted and complex, how is it that Spider could tell what its function was just by looking at its code scrolling by on a screen at top speed? Wouldn’t he at least need to spend some time with it to decrypt and figure it out?
  • How is it that it only took three lines of code for Spider to change all of Earth’s population’s citizenship status from illegal to legal? So, the data was this easy to rewrite? Really? And this took immediate effect and was implemented across the board instantly? Honestly?
  • Now, if the download from Carlyle to Max was encrypted and (according to Max) unusable, then why was it so easily used later on in the picture? There were no issues whatsoever, either: wouldn’t there be bugs or some sort of complication? Seems to me that, at the very least, the data shouldn’t be complete, it should be corrupted in some way…
  • An finally, does it make any sense that Elysium’s three medical ships are sent out to heal ALL OF EARTH’s population? Isn’t that a bit ambitious? And why would they have those med ships in the first place, if all of Elysium’s population is… um… in space, on Elysium? AND they have Med-Bays in each home.

Which begs the question… if they have these ships, why didn’t they just send one for Carlyle when he got hit?

Honestly, I’m sure that there are tons of other holes in ‘Elysium’, but these were the most blatant ones I could come up with having not taken any notes during the viewing. For all its pretensions, it’s really not that bright a movie when you think of it. It’s not Michael Bay-dumb, naturally, but it’s certainly not clever like ‘Memento‘, ‘π’, or ‘The Usual Suspects‘.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

Thankfully the performances are all solid, but it’s not enough to surmount the lopsided effect of the writing, which was ambitious but short-sighted. Although it’s easy to commend Blomkamp for his attempt to inspire socio-political discourse with ‘Elysium’, the fact remains that he needs to craft his material more carefully and with more flair. What could have been a masterpiece of the genre falls apart all too easily under minimal scrutiny.

Granted, it’s an improvement on ‘District 9’; it suggests that Blomkamp is showing signs of growth. Perhaps his next one will be even better. It’s clear that Blomkamp is a talented filmmaker with something to say and he’s well-worth keeping an eye on, so I will pay attention to his next releases. However, as it stands, for now his tour-de-force remains elusive.

Date of viewing: August 2, 2014

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