Our story’s protagonist, Max Da Costa (played by Matt Damon), is a blue collar worker on planet Earth, which has turned into a filthy wasteland that the poor occupy. The rich, on the other hand, reside on the pristine orbital space colony of Elysium, where a medical bay can heal even the most deadly of diseases in mere seconds.
Unfortunate for Max, he takes a lethal dose of radiation on the job, leaving him a mere five days to live. His only hope of survival is to find a way onto Elysium, where they mercilessly shoot down shuttles trying to enter their space illegally. And, if you do happen to make it onto the station – and you aren’t killed upon arrival – they deport you. Damn.
Max decides to enlist the help of Spider (played by Wagner Moura), who might be able to provide him with a means to enter the atmosphere of the elusive Elysium. Spider agrees to find him a way, but first sends him on a mission to interrupt John Carlyle (played by William Fichtner) to obtain vital data concerning Elysium that will enable his entry. But first, Spider’s gang surgically installs an exoskeleton on Max so he can continue to operate (more like bulldoze) under the deadly influence of radiation.
With some difficultly and some casualties in tow, Max is able to complete his mission. Unfortunately, Spider is powerless to send him up to Elysium, as Secretary of Defense Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster) grows wise to their operation. Her secret police force (more like shady guns-for-hire) led by crazy Kruger (played by Sharlto Copley) start hunting them down.
They succeed in kidnapping Da Costa’s one and only love – Frey (played by Alice Braga) and her daughter – and make way to Elysium, but Max is not far behind.
Writer and director Neill Blomkamp is largely responsible for the ups and downs represented in this film. Giving more than one role to a controlling individual is usually a recipe for side-splitting disaster, but in this case it seems to have worked out decently.
If anything, another writer probably would not have hurt this movie, as the overarching theme of segregation of poor and rich is a little too conspicuous, and some fairly high-profile actors are present but not delivering performances they’re fully capable of (thus the need for more direction). Aside from that, you have a pretty fascinating movie.
As an aside, the notion that the elite class is unusually cruel and selfish seems a little outdated in today’s world. It’s still a common perception, but it isn’t true in many cases. Yes, there are definitely greedy, self-occupied people in this world, but that can literally happen at any level of wealth or poverty. As far as I’m concerned, greed is not a dollar amount, though hoarding may be.
Noting that, could you see a story like this playing out in real life? I’ll leave that to your imagination.
The Effects, The Visuals & The Action
This is where this movie shines, sometimes literally. From the majestic space colony of Elysium to the gripping action scenes and the accompanying arsenal of gadgets and weapons, Elysium definitely delivers the goods.
The action scenes are over-the-top and intense, not unlike some modern video games out there. Things appear entirely hopeless for Max on numerous counts, but he somehow survives to confront Kruger (perhaps the most deadly battle of all) and sacrifice himself to make Elysium a place where the average person can inhabit and receive treatment for their wounds and illnesses.
Suffice to say, a lot of people die in the process.
I rather enjoyed Elysium, but it was clear from the beginning that it was never going to live up to some of my favorites in the genre, including The Matrix and Inception. I don’t like to make those my eternal benchmarks for excellent Sci-Fi/Action movies, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Elysium was up against some heavy competition.
Like Avatar, it relies pretty heavily on the action and the visuals, and gambles on a lackluster storyline. It touches on the greed and selfishness of humanity, and isn’t too subtle in getting there either. A little trite, perhaps?
As far as the “Would I watch it again?” test, this movie passes. I’m not sure that I would make a regular thing of it, but a second viewing wouldn’t be completely unwelcome. For that, I will give it a fairly generous seven out of 10 rating.
In general, I think we need more and better Sci-Fi, so I can’t be too harsh on this movie. It definitely would have benefited from a more polished storyline that was less focused on the common man and the “untouchable rich”, but you can’t completely ignore its positive qualities – of which there are several – either.(7 / 10)