Everyone has that one family member who loves to jump into any interesting conversation and steer it towards their view on what’s wrong with the world. For a while everyone humors him/her, but after a while it becomes grating, and soon everyone is checking their watches and realizing why nobody eats dinner together anymore. Elysium is that family member. We start out with a promising premise (the earth is trashed, the privileged flee to orbiting space station to keep their posh lifestyle), throw in some capable stars (Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner) and then use it as a one-note platform to advance…whatever it is this movie is trying to tell us.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure what this movie is trying to convey. The Rich in this movie are pretty much all jerks- as in, every single one in Elysium would shoot a puppy if it meant money would fall out. So, are we saying there are only the poor and the rich and no middle class in the USA? The Earth we are shown is comprised almost exclusively of Hispanics who want to get to Elysium, even if it means paying for dangerous shuttles. Okay, that’s easy- immigration, right? So, is director Blomkamp saying countries shouldn’t have borders? Or is this about healthcare, since Elysium has miracle machines that heal everything but a bad attitude? The problem is everything is so hyperbolic it’s over-simplified so much it loses any practicality. Elysium has strengths, but subtlety isn’t one of them.
Look, I’m fine with a movie to have its own worldview- it’s natural. But (much like this review) the actual plot and characters seem to get left behind in favor of The Very Serious Message. That’s my main hangup with this movie- it could have been fun. I was promised Matt Damon in a mech suit, fighting robots, then flying to Halo- in that order. Instead, we have an overbearing script that keeps pulling us aside to remind us how Very Serious this all is, just in case we’re starting to enjoy ourselves (maybe I’m just upset there was a total of one robot fight). This doesn’t matter to everyone, but there are also a few very gory sections, most notably one facial injury that makes the Dark Knight’s Two-Face look like Pretty Pretty Pony.
The effects are great (in the case of the violence, almost too good), and the acting is generally Very Serious but effective. Sharlto Copley as Kruger stands out in particular as a complicated psycho you wouldn’t want to cross. Again, the sci-fi elements are creative, but underused. It’s not a bad movie- I just personally didn’t enjoy it. The first thing I did after the movie was to try to remember one joke- not a particular joke, just any joke. Maybe it was the endless seriousness or violence or overblown social commentary, but I was unable to conjure up one memory of comic relief. Heck, even Les Miserables had funny parts/lines/characters. Instead, the film turned into a fairly straightforward story, with a mood as drab and serious as its post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.