I thought, during the first 15 minutes or so of Elysium, that the melodrama reminded of those old damsel-in-distress setups where the maiden in question agrees to marry the landlord in order to make good on the rent (which was the fate of Jane in the first Tarzan book, just to put it in perspective).
Then I realized that’s pretty unfair, since at least you knew the landlord’s motivation, however wrong you considered it to be.
Then I thought, “The Purge called. It’s embarrassed by your ham-handed socially relevant sci-fi. Also, dude: Stealing a Star Trek episode? Totes played out!”
Then, “You know what features a more balanced and nuanced look at pressing social issues? Birth of a Nation.”
But, here, let me back up a bit: Elysium is the sci-fi action flick from Neil Blomquist, maker of the classic 2009 movie District 9. The setting is: poor people live on an overpopulated, desolate earth while the rich people live in Elysium. (Say it with me now: Thanks, Obama!) The premise is that Matt Damon has a way to infiltrate Elysium.
And that’s really it. That’s your MacGuffin, right there. You might be wondering, “Well, okay, but then what?” Presumably not everyone can live on Elysium, so even if everything works out for the best what difference, as our former Secretary of State once said, does it make?
This is a lot like The Purge: Besides ripping off a basic premise of a “Star Trek” episode, it removes all the motivations and meanings from the plot. Where the original “Star Trek” episode featured a mind-controlling computer, The Purge had to make do with “Well, people would just act that way under a Tea Party President.” (And that was their thinking, embarrassingly enough.)
In this case, “The Cloud Minders” featured a similar premise with the idea that life in the clouds, away from a particular gas prevalent in the mines created (in essence) two different tribes of people. This presents a problem, and a potential solution. Here, the problem is overpopulation, and the solution is…healthcare?
Anyway, Elysium (the place, not the movie) is great and wonderful and prosperous and perfect and abundant, and absolutely none of this filters down to earth because fuck you. Pardon my French, but that is the sole motivation of every “citizen” we encounter. (See below for a spoiler/explanation of how extreme this extended middle-finger is.)
I’m not kidding about Birth of a Nation either: It is somehow acceptable to present an entire class of people as completely evil strictly on the basis of them being rich. (And largely white, though the putative head of Elysium is an Indian.)
There’s no reason given for how society works. Profit is vaguely mentioned at one point. But it’s not clear what the money is used for. We never see anyone selling anything. There are no stores, just a landscape of tin shacks, Tijuana style, covering all of Los Angeles. Sure, the robot/defense merchant wants a beefy Elysium contract and evil Jodie Foster wants to run everything, so there’s that. But we don’t really know why. Nicer house? Social status?
By the way, I would consider myself a fan of Jodie Foster’s work and this is the absolute worst acting I’ve ever seen her do in 40 years. (I mean, we can argue about the merits of her work in Napoleon and Samantha, but she was nine, for crying out loud.) She got to put her French to use; I can only hope it was better than her English, which was reminiscent of Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski.
There’s no argument that Blomquist is a very talented director. A lot of the same techniques showcased in District 9 are used here again, and well. (Though there’s some shaky-cam abuse.) As The Boy said, “It wasn’t boring.” But it was so amazingly stupid, not just in the big picture, but in every little detail, we were chuckling at first—then finally outright laughing by the end.
You can see this stuff in the trailers, but if you thought things were better fleshed out in the movie, you’re wrong. Like, in the trailer, it’s clear that Damon is a reformed thief, but he gets beaten for cracking wise to the cop-droids.
And he’s shocked by this. As if he’d never encountered cop-droids before, or as if someone had just turned off their humor circuits or something.
In a lot of ways, he acts like a fish-out-of-water, which can be useful for explaining stuff to the audience, but ruins him as a character.
Oh, also? Remember all the kind of darkly comic violence in District 9? Lots of the same here, except without the comic part. I think Blomquist just likes blowing people up in a messy way. Which is a little creepy.
If I listed everything about this movie that made no sense, I’d basically be typing out the screenplay.
Elysium has no defenses—it’s completely open, not a sealed torus, which is possible scientifically but problematically since the poor folk of Earth can scrape together shuttles pretty easily, it seems.
Alice Braga and Matt Damon are supposed to be peers. I guess the the theory is he’s had a very, very hard life and/or she really hasn’t, because their 10 year age difference is noticeable.
One thing that had us laughing out loud by the end was the gun battles. There were a plethora of guns which is good, because Matt Damon’s combat strategy was to grab one, fire until it was out of ammo, then throw it away. (At one point, including a shotgun which had spare shells mounted on the side!)
Oh, it just goes on and on.
Now, District 9 was taken to be about apartheid, but was in fact about the Zimbabwe invasion of South Africa. This film is taken to be about socialized medicine, but it’s really about overpopulation. Unlike District 9, though, the overpopulation concept is actually much less nuanced: A movie actually about socialized medicine might have had more depth.
You know, we enjoyed it, but couldn’t really recommend it. Which is kind of weird. We were expecting little and it exceeded our low expectations, so far the other way as to be a clown show. Almost like the last Resident Evil movie.
OK, are you ready for the big spoiler?
Here it comes!
You’ve been warned!
At the end of the movie, Damon is successful (duh, summer flick) in his gambit to free Elysium. When this happens, his sidekick literally punches a single button, causing fleets of ships bearing healing machines to distribute themselves on earth.
So…that’s all they had to do. Push this button and heal the sick. At no cost to themselves. (OK, a cost like driving to corner store would be now.) They all had these machines in their houses, energy wasn’t an issue, obviously, and they had bunches to spare but they were just sitting there.
And, now, all the sick are healed on earth. Yay! But…wait…the problem was overpopulation. How does this solve any of the core problems of crowdedness, poverty, deoslation, etc. In fact, in this Malthusian dystopia, doesn’t it in fact make everything worse?
I’m used to turning my brain off for summer flicks, but I think this movie insulted my spinal cord.