Even before I saw Elysium, I kept saying to myself, “This movie takes place in a dystopian future!” I was saying it to myself, in my head, but I was saying it nonetheless. And boy, oh boy, was Elysium ever set in a dystopian future.
Specifically, Los Angeles in the year 2154 is very dystopian. You can tell things aren’t going well there because everyone is sick and/or speaking Spanish. At least, I assume that is the political stance that director Neill Blomkamp is taking. Much like his first film, District 9, which dealt with xenophobia and segregation, Elysium uses science fiction to examine issues like immigration and the health care system.
Matt Damon plays Max, an assembly line worker and former criminal who lives in the mess that is LA 2154. His life appears to suck just as much as everyone else’s, but he has a dingy apartment to himself. He has tried to put his life of car thievery behind him as he takes the future bus to work at the factory everyday. Why, in 2154 when they have so many capable robots, does the assembly line not consists solely of robots? Probably because its cheaper and it really makes you think about working conditions in the third world.
Eventually, Damon gets a lethal dosage of radiation in the factory. The only way to cure himself is to get to Elysium. And when you live alone in Los Angeles in 2154 in a shitty apartment in the slums, I guess you’ll do anything to hold onto that life. So Matt Damon enlists the help of some shady dudes, some action and whatnot goes down, and he heads for Elysium.
Standing in his way are two very different bad guys. Jodie Foster plays Elysium’s Secretary of Defense. She’s damn good at her job, but for some reason the president of Elysium wants to handcuff her. You would think that if keeping the quality of life on Elysium is so important killing a few Earth immigrants trying to cross the space boarder wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is.
Foster’s agent on the ground on Earth is Kruger, played pretty badass-ly by Sharlto Copley who played Wikus van de Merwe in District 9. Kruger is a sleeper cell, who the president wants to decommission. This leads to all sorts of people turning on each other. In the end, you’re just supposed to root for Max as his mission goes from saving himself to saving Earth, even if he never really seems to accept that responsibility until he has no other choice.
Damon is fine as the lead (Is he ever! There is a gratuitous ab shot early in the film. Oh my…), Max. He’s Matt Damon. Personally, I think the film would have been more interesting with Eminem playing Max as Blomkamp originally wanted. Damon seems almost wasted here.
This isn’t a movie with huge explosions or long, drawn out battles. The details are in the small explosions and fights. The attention to detail when a robot explodes or a bolt is drilled into Matt Damon’s head or a guy’s entire face is blown off and then regenerated is great. There’s hardly anything on a larger scale.
Elysium is a solid, but it’s not a classic. And its good in an intentionally good way, but not great and it isn’t going to spark any social change. Or make anyone reconsider their stance on immigration. I expected – hoped for – something epic from Elysium. I got something good, but it felt like it both wanted to be and could have been so much more.