I saw Elysium last week and I was not a fan. I very much enjoyed District 9 and I was intrigued by the basic premise of the film which seemed to build on the political and social message from District 9 but without the alien fig leaf device.
Before continuing, let me just say SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie and intend to, stop reading now. Here’s a picture of Matt Damon.
All good? Okay.
The basic premise of the film is that Earth has become an overpopulated mess that is exploited for its resources by the filthy rich who live on the luxurious titular artificial planet. On Elysium, they are serviced and protected by androids and have medical beds which repair any damage to the body or cure any illness almost instantly. It’s not 100% clear if this means residents of Elysium are effectively immortal, barring catastrophic injury or not, as there are clearly residents of the planet who are of vastly different ages. Which actually brings me to my first problem with the movie:
- The rules are inconsistent. It’s important in a science fiction movie that the physics of the world, however fantastic, make sense within the story being told. In Elysium, the exact properties of the technology varies. The medical pods appear to cure illness and repair injury but in one instance they are used to completely rebuild destroyed tissue without any seeming addition of organic matter. In another distracting inconsistency, the robotic exoskeleton that Matt Damon wears is just as effective against an unequipped expert human fighter, that same fighter wearing a massively superior exoskeleton, and against superhuman androids.
But, back to the story. Matt Damon is an ex-con who works at a plant that makes service and security droids. After an accident exposes him to a lethal dose of radiation, Damon is given some pills that will keep him functional until his organs fail and he dies in FIVE DAYS. It’s good that they keep mentioning the number of days because that is literally the only way you know time is elapsing in the movie. In an attempt to save his life, Damon gets back into the service of his former outlaw smuggler boss so he can find a way onto Elysium and into one of the medical pods. Smuggler boss agrees to get him there in exchange for performing a risky job of kidnapping a prominent industrialist (who happens to be the owner of the company Damon worked for) and extract the data that is stored in his brain for some reason. Which brings me to my next problem with the movie.
- The story is needlessly complicated. Not only is the industrialist a billionaire asshole who views residents of Earth as subhuman, he also needs to be storing valuable data in his brain. Oh, and he’s also engaged in a digital coup d’etat with Jodie Foster on Elysium, so instead of just the usual bank codes and things stored in his brain, he’s got the code for an entire reboot of Elysium, which will somehow let Jodie Foster be president instead of that South Asian guy who is in everything. Because of that, Damon cannot be killed (or at least, not have his brain damaged), until Jodie Foster can get the data back out of Damon’s brain. Oh, which will kill Matt Damon because of a security virus put into the program by the industrialist. Oh AND when Damon’s smuggler boss who has stopped being an adversary and is now his friend discovers that Damon’s brain contains the entire Elysium OS, he somehow knows that if he gets to this one terminal on Elysium and puts in the new OS while also changing A SINGLE LINE ITEM OF CODE, he can make all the residents of Earth officially citizens of Elysium as well, giving them access to all of Elysium’s automated resources. Oh, AND Matt Damon’s old friend-turned-nurse Alice Braga has a daughter with leukemia who also needs to get to Elysium. Oh, AND Sharlto Copley is a black ops specialist directly employed by Jodie Foster who is pursuing Matt Damon ostensibly on her behalf until he learns the contents of Matt Damon’s brain and decides to slit Jodie Foster’s jugular with a piece of broken glass and decides to start his own fraternity. Point being, half the number of plot twists could’ve been used and made for just as effective of a story. There was too much distraction from the core compelling premise of the movie: Matt Damon destroying androids in space in an effort to improve the quality of life on Earth.
Some more picked nits:
- Why do the people of Earth speak English and Spanish, but the people of Elysium speak English and French. Is this a political point? If so, what is it? If it’s not, then what’s the point?
- Why didn’t they take off Matt Damon’s shirt while they were drilling an exoskeleton into his body?
- Why did there stop being battle droids? Did Matt Damon kill them all?
- You could not understand a word Sharlto Copley said and very little of what Wagner Moura said. I had no problem understanding Copley in District 9.
- Jodie Foster was acting in her own movie.
- It took too damn long to get to the damn planet that is the title of the damn movie.
- Diego Luna was in the move for, like, five minutes.
All that being said, Elysium did have some pretty great action set pieces, a great workman’s performance from Matt Damon, and beautiful cinematography once we actually got to the damn planet. If you’re better at suspending disbelief than I am, you might find enough to like in Elysium, but for me the problems far outpaced the exciting moments.