Neill Blomkamp is a director who loves his social commentary, and I respect that. I also respect his originality. For instance, with District 9, the story was relatively simple to follow, the effects were awesome, and above all, there were layers. You know where Elysium screwed up? Too much stuff too fast, in-your-face commentary, and very little development. Sorry, minor spoilers ahead – I have to get some things off my chest.
The year is 2154, and at some point the earth was plagued by disease and destruction, leaving the elite to escape Earth and build a safe-haven satellite known as Elysium. Our protagonist, Max, is an ex-con turned factory worker, with dreams of earning enough to join those up above. One day while building robo-cops, Max is exposed to a deadly amount of radiation, leaving him only five days to live. Why the robo-cops are radiated is beyond me. Coincidentally, this is also when we discover that Max’s love interest, Frey, has a daughter dying of leukemia. The technology to fix such ailments is harbored on Elysium, so Max strikes a deal with his former crime-boss guy in order to get up there and the rest is in the movie – let’s get on with it.
My main issues with Elysium lie solely in the technology. Okay I lied, it’s mostly the technology and then the characters. Even though the effects were pretty good (perhaps too much slow-mo for my taste), the quantity of gadgets left much to be desired. For instance, you’re telling me that there was a way for the bad guys to read whatever technobabble was flowing into Max’s head, but you couldn’t find him hiding under a pig pen? Also if you’re harboring a dangerous man in an exoskeleton (Elysium medics, I’m talking to you now), why not remove the exoskeleton? It’s not like you don’t have that kind of technology – just saw off the bits on his arms and legs and keep the brain-bit intact. Sheesh. It’s also amazing how an exoskeleton makes you forget you have radiation poisoning and keeps you going for hours after getting stabbed in the stomach. (Yes, I know he was medicated, but we should not ignore the fact that he was deathly ill.)
Amidst all this technobabble we lose sight of our characters – which really isn’t that hard. I don’t know if it’s because Max is the everyman or because Frey was thrown in so the only female isn’t a villain, but there really wasn’t anything that interesting going on there – that whole dynamic seemed awkward and rushed. I’ll go right out and say it, I thought her daughter was annoying. There, I’m a monster. What I guess makes me more of a monster is that I want to know more about our baddies, Delacourt and Kuger.
Specifically, I want to know how Elysium was built – how did this sickness come to be? And why was Delacourt so evil? I understand that the rich are conditioned to believe that Earth citizens are, well, the scum of the Earth, but why so vicious? What made her tick? Are we supposed to believe that the way things are in this film are simply the way things are now with the current state of elitism and healthcare? Because that is really just such a cheap shot – I want my mind blown, dammit! Okay, let’s say it really is that basic, Earthlings are the 99% and the Elysiumites are the 1% – what does that make folks like Kruger?
I think this is why I liked Kruger so much: he was an original, terrifying character that was actually interesting. It seems like the only reason Delacourt wanted Kruger on her side is because he only lives for bloodlust, but she should have known a guy this crazy isn’t the best to have around. What I want to know is what is a South African mercenary doing with a katana? What’s the story there?
Honestly, I think because Blomkamp was so caught up making us hate rich people that he forgot to give us some lore to go on (ironic considering the budget was so huge). We’ve seen dystopian Earth before, what’s going to make this one different? Sometimes simplicity is the best option.
Considering the run-time, I sincerely believe that Elysium would have made a really cool TV series – at least then there would have been time to fix continuity errors and to develop lore, backstory and most of all, empathy.
Final Grade: C+