It seems there are two ways that moviegoers might approach Elysium, either as a left-wing political allegory or as a more mainstream science-fiction adventure.
Either way, the sophomore effort from promising South African director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) has issues. Its political subtext becomes heavy-handed with regard to issues such as corporate greed, illegal immigration and access to healthcare.
As for the sci-fi, the technically proficient film becomes predictable and takes itself too seriously despite a provocative post-apocalyptic scenario.
The film is set in the year 2154, sometime after Earth has become a wasteland of pollution and overpopulation. Meanwhile, affluence continues to flourish on Elysium, a man-made space station that provides an idyllic home for those who can afford it.
Max (Matt Damon) resides on the wrong side of this harsh socioeconomic class division, as an ex-con with a blue-collar job and a dream of one day traveling to Elysium, where Earthbound residents are regarded as illegals and swatted away thanks to the efforts of Delacourt (Jodie Foster), a ruthless government official.
After a workplace incident puts Max’s life in jeopardy, he decides to join a revolutionary movement that plans to use brute force to send him to Elysium and eventually bring equality to the masses. But the perilous mission doesn’t proceed on schedule once Max — who is turned into a half-machine cyborg of sorts — encounters one of Delacourt’s top henchmen (Sharlto Copley).
Blomkamp stages some compelling action sequences, including a handful of stylish fight scenes that employ a variety of weapons and tactics. Damon makes for a credible action hero in one of the grittiest portrayals of his career.
Yet Blomkamp’s screenplay is muddled and lacks subtlety. It doesn’t follow through on its intriguing premise, instead settling for a conventional structure and a resolution that doesn’t achieve the intended emotional payoff. In addition, the logic in the film’s dystopian universe seems flimsy under moderate scrutiny. But at least it’s ambitious in its attempt to mix sci-fi conventions with social commentary.
Elysium is more cynical than optimistic about the future of our planet. If it’s anything close to being true, thankfully none of us will be around to see it.
Rated R, 109 minutes.