MOVIE: Elysium (2013)

elysiumAfter watching this movie and pondering it for a few weeks (what, I’ve been busy!), the best word I can come up with to describe it is the word COOL.

This sci-fi fable about the haves and the have-nots in the year 2154 is cool-looking and it’s packed with some very cool ideas.  The main character is even a little Fonz.  But it’s also cool as in “more or less unemotional.”  And I have a few theories as to why.

Matt Damon plays ex-con Max, living on a dusty, desperate Earth and struggling to put his life right after getting out of the slammer, when he gets a toxic dose of radiation and is given 5 days to live.  DANG!

As a kid, he’d stared up at Elysium, a spinning space station just above Earth where all the rich people live, and longed to go there and be rich too.  Since, in addition to buckets of money, they also have these machines that cure every medical problem, Max decides there’s no time like the present, it’s just a question of HOW.  The government of Elysium certainly isn’t going to let some random, scuzzy foreigner aboard.  God, he might breathe on them or something!

The “how” part turns out to be a shady partnership with a criminal named Spider, who outfits Max with a brutally installed robotic exoskeleton (Blomkamp loves robotic exoskeletons), the logistics of which made very little sense to me (it’s installed over his clothes, which is going to make showering AND pooping kind of tricky, though maybe we don’t have to poop anymore in 2154?).  This will keep Max moving (and give him crazy robot strength) long enough for him to catch a nasty CEO from Elysium they know is coming to Earth, stick a metal doo-dad in his head, and download all the Elysium systems info from his brain. That’s a config.sys file worth its weight in gold — they can use it to hack the Elysium computers, make every Earthling an official Elysium citizen, move everybody up there, and let somebody else mow their damn lawns for a change.

The problem with the plan is, well, you know, the plan. For one thing, you should never count on computers when death is on the line (also: don’t go up against Sicilians).  And also, I just really feel like installing a data port with direct access to your brain is a bad idea in general.  Especially if the operation panel for that data port is located on the BACK of your head.  This didn’t really become an issue, but it probably should have.

Anyway.  Everything goes wrong, natch, and Max ends up needing medical attention, which, wonder of wonders!, he receives from his childhood girlfriend, who, wonder of wonders some more!, has a young daughter dying of cancer.  IF ONLY THERE WERE A WAY SHE COULD BE CURED!  You can see where this is headed.

And that’s the problem with this movie.  It is a spectacle, for sure — visually stunning, fast-paced, and very entertaining.  But man, was it ever predictable, not to mention obnoxiously heavy on the “assuming the audience is too dumb to understand metaphors” thing.  Yes, yes, we get it:  class struggle, the immigration situation, hippos need friends too,  CHECK.   We’re not morons, man.

Even worse, though, is the fact that while I was thoroughly entertained until the final moments, when those final moments finally hit, the first  thing I thought to myself was, “Wow, that was fun. . . and I feel nothing.”  Which is pretty weird, really, because not everybody who starts the movie gets to end it, and that ought to have triggered some kind of emotion, right?  It usually does, anyway.  But it didn’t here, and, for me anyway, Max’s old girlfriend is to blame for it.  That character, her daughter, and that entire storyline got in the way of the movie more than they contributed to it. There wasn’t enough time to strongly establish an authentic emotional bond — all the flashbacks to childhood in the world aren’t going to result in instant believable chemistry between two people in the present, and not only did I not care about their relationship, I didn’t care about her or her daughter either.  Or Max, really, for that matter.  I mean, he’s a nice guy, but his character is kind of a dime a dozen in sci-fi action movies, know what I mean?

Also, for the record: Jodie Foster WTF?  The only good thing about her in this film is her butt (which, incidentally, looked truly amazing in that suit).

Lastly, there were a lot of things in this movie that didn’t make much sense.   I don’t want to get too nitpicky here because, after all, it’s sci-fi, not sci-fact.  But let’s take, for example, those all-healing medical pods.  They can put a guy back together whose head was literally blown to smithereens, but they can’t help the guy whose brain gets damaged by a data download?  Why is that?  <– Rhetorical question, because we already know the answer is  “The first guy needed to come back to life for the plot to work, and the second guy needed to die for the same reason.”  Man, I hate it when that happens.

Additionally, the rebel plan appears to be shipping everyone from Earth to Elysium — equality at last!  But if we send everybody up to Elysium, doesn’t Elysium just turn into Earth?  I mean, you can’t magically fix dystopia with a change of scenery, even if that scenery features perfectly cut grass.  Speaking of which, I also found it  hard to imagine why anybody would want to live on Elysium in the first place.  It’s like Stepford Circle up there, first of all, and immortality in a land of perfection sounds like the boringest thing of all time.  I mean, I’m impatient with life already, and I’m only 39!  Just imagine if you had to go live on a space station with a few hundred thousand Kevin Costners and Nicole Kidmans.  Would YOU want to get in that medical pod?  Me neither.

Anyway, my point is that this movie is really, really entertaining.  It is!  I swear!  But that’s about all there is to it. It’s big and blasty and exciting and ROBOT EXOSKELETONS!, but there’s no meat to it at all, and the meat substitute Blomkamp tries to shove down our throats in lieu of actual meat is just. . . blech.  As meat substitutes tend to be.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Sci-fi (not Sci-FACT!)
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna, Michael Shanks

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4 Responses to “MOVIE: Elysium (2013)”

  1. RogerBW Says:

    A step up in budget from District 9, and a step down in sophistication? Or maybe it’s that the old South African situation isn’t as familiar to use as the immigration thing.

    I do think that the Message got in the way of the plot: “why wouldn’t they just do X” was all too often answered by “then it wouldn’t be such a good metaphor for Mexicans trying to get into the USA”.

  2. RogerBW Says:

    (For “use” read “us”.)

  3. megwood Says:

    I wasn’t a huge fan of District 9 either, for many of the same reasons. But I definitely thought it was more sophisticated when it came to delivering the message than this one was. I think a lot of people probably saw that movie and had no idea it was about Apartheid, for example, and not because they didn’t know anything about South Africa but instead because they were sucked into a good sci-fi movie. You couldn’t miss “the message” in Elysium, unless you were a complete moron. It’s so crammed with straw men, it’s practically a scarecrow. And what’s far, far worse is that, if you stop to think about it, it actually didn’t have a “message” at all, aside from “social inequality bad! money good!” But there’s no real exploration of WHY it’s bad, or what might be done to fix it. The “solution” to the problem in the film made no sense at all, as I said before (if you moved everybody in Mexico to the US, for example, that would not solve the problem of social inequality between Americans and Mexicans — it might actually make it worse). Frankly, it even takes for granted the idea that all the Earthlings would desperately want to be Elysians (and, by parallel, that all Mexicans desperately want to be Americans). Which at best is arrogant, and at worst probably ought to be downright offensive.

    The more I think, the more annoyed I get. But I did have fun in the moment, I swear!

    • Anonymous Says:

      (Liz) “The more I think, the more annoyed I get” – boy, can I relate to that! I haven’t seen “Elysium” yet (I thought I wanted to), but I bet I’ll agree with almost everything you said. BTW, I liked “District 9,” understood that it was about “apartheid,” but still thought it was a little … simplistic. This movie sounds even more so.

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