Matt Damon stars as Max – a working class dude stuck in Los Angeles in 2154. Earth is a wasteland slum inhabited by the Have Nots, while the Haves bugged out for Elysium – a space colony like Deep Space Nine, but beautiful and holding all of the best technology and everything else humanity has to offer.
While the poor of Earth constantly try to sneak onto Elysium for a better life and cures to illness, Delacourt (Jodie Foster) serves as the chief of defense and will stop at nothing to keep the intruders out, or gather more power for herself.
Now, Max finds himself suffering from a lethal dose of radiation poisoning due to a workplace accident, and will be dead in 5 days unless he can come up with a way to get to Elysium and take advantage of their medical knowledge and machines. When the opportunity presents itself, Max finds himself in deeper trouble and intrigue than he ever could have imagined.
Writer/director Neill Blomkamp lets the desire for typical movie tropes get in the way of a smarter movie.
Like he did in his last movie, Blomkamp does a great job imagining and delivering a desolate, desperate Earth resembling the same kind of slums he showed us in District 9 (maybe they filmed it in Detroit).
However, he sometimes lets Elysium get bogged down by the wrong stuff. The whole romantic love interest relationship between Frey (Alice Braga) and Max is only used when needed to advance some other plot point instead of truly becoming part of the story and being important. It’s almost as if the romantic pairing is tossed into the movie for the sake of having one because “Love Interest” is on the moviemaking checklist.
I can say the same thing for some of the action. The desire to add more explosions and gunfights leads to the marginalization of interesting characters and puts too much focus on Kruger (Sharlto Copley) – a military dude who is nuts and pursuing Max. It’s like Blomkamp or some studio exec was determined to make sure we had a big climactic fight scene between Kruger and Max, so we are stuck with more screen time for a character that doesn’t deserve it.
On the positive side, Blomkamp provides a script with plenty of thought provoking parallels between our world today and Elysium’s inequality, lack of humanity and issues between the rich and poor, while none of it is overdone or screamed at the audience. It’s just enough to let us recognize it (and get those who traffic in and profit from The Culture Wars to scream and cry to get attention for themselves).
Elysium features another solid performance from Damon, and that’s what makes it worth seeing.
Elysium is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.