Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Mouda, and William Fichtner
A child is brought to an orphanage in Los Angles run by Catholic nuns. There, Young Max (Maxwell Perry Cotton) meets Young Frey (Valentina Giron) and they become friends. In time Young Max promises that he will take Frey to paradise in the sky, Elysium.
The present, the year 2154, Max (Matt Damon) is on his way to work at a factory. Up in the sky Elysium still hangs like a jewel. Elysium, purview of the rich and powerful–paradise not on earth. Elysium, where there is no poverty, hunger, or disease. Earth, below, is overrun by people who want, hunger, and are sick.
At the bus stop Max is accosted by robot police; his arm broken. At the overwhelmed hospital Max is taken care of by Frey (Alice Braga)–now a nurse–both not having seen each other in years. HIs arm set, Max arrives late to work where he barely keeps his job for being late as well as injured.
In Elysium, Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is called a way from a party for a security issue. Three shuttles are on route from Earth with illegal human cargo. She orders them destroyed. Two are, the third evades the missile attack and lands on Elysium. Mother and child run to the nearest home where the mother places her crippled child in a medical chamber, and watches as her daughter is restored to full health. Quickly all the illegals are caught and then shipped back to Earth.
The following day on Earth Max is involved in a work accident, and is exposed to a fatal dose of radiation. He has only five days to live. With nothing to lose and his only hope up in the sky, Max makes the choice to go to Elysium.
After his 2009 debut film, District 9, there was much anticipation of Neil Blomkamp’s follow-up film. Unfortunately Blomkamp the writer let Blomkamp the director down. Whereas District 9 has a straightforward story with engaging characters, Elysium suffers from a story with too much going on–to the point, there are too many changing antagonists with limited motivations. Instead of having one strongly fleshed-out character we have three superficial ones. How much stronger a story would this have been if the one Elysium citizen that actually worked in the trenches of Earth and built all that made Elysium function was elevated to the principal antagonist? His motivation? A bitter resentment to the citizens in the sky whose life he makes possible as everyday he is surrounded by filth and squalor as they idle in their floating palace.
What we do have is a strong protagonist in Max as played by Matt Damon. A man just trying to get by and atone for past mistakes, who is forced by circumstance to take action. Though his reasons are initially selfish, they later become altruistic. Damon carries the role well and does not have a false note. Braga, Luna, and Mouda deliver solid yet limited performances as Frey, Julio (Max’s friend), and Spider (local crime lord), respectively. Fichtner as Carlyle (the businessman) and Foster as Delacourt are not given much to play with and deliver uninspiring performances. The only person truly having fun with his role is Sharlto Copley as Kruger, Elysium’s operative on Earth.
The look of the film is incredible. The slums of Los Angeles are filmed in the actual slums of Mexico City as well as its garbage dump–the second largest in the world. Elysium itself is expertly realized, as well as the technology this world functions on.
Editing on the other hand is weak. The fight scenes, especially the last between Max and Kruger, are difficult to follow and cut together roughly. At one point I believed a shot was missing because of where the actors landed and the incomprehensibility of the action. The the film is only ninety-seven minutes and it felt all of those minutes.
Blomkamp could have benefited from the use of a cowriter. Instead of a tight film we are left with a convoluted film with too pat an idealistic ending.
Grade = C