Elysium: The One Percent In Orbit

Elysium, Matt Damon, Jodi Foster, Neill BlomkampSomehow in my two reviews of upcoming science fiction movies, I missed Elysium. It has science fiction, Matt Damon, and Jodi Foster to recommend it. Neill Blomkamp directed it and his break-out film was District 9, the terrific anti-apartheid commentary in science fiction form. I scanned the Elysium reviews and they seemed to be OK so off we went.

Elysium had the material for a biting commentary on the One Percent leaving earth for their wheel-in-the-sky space luxury home while the teeming masses swelter and suffer on a dystopian earth.

Self-Loading Freight

This resonated with me after reading Darrell Hartman’s book review in @WSJ “Flying the Unfriendly Skies,” which details the “starker division than ever between first-class customers and back-of-plane passengers—or ‘self-loading freight,’ as flight crews call them.” In the air, at least, society is divided into the one percent, who can afford First-class fares in the high four- to low-five figures, and us self-loading freight sitting in Coach with the goats and chickens.

 Mr. Blomkamp wrote the script for Elysium, as he co-wrote the script for District 9, so the story and dialog could have created a political allegory that illustrated this growing social divide.

Just Men Fighting Men 

What we got, however, was another graphic novel on film in which men face off with other men in endless battles of one kind or another. Boys beating up on boys. They use guns with ingenious types of ammunition, bombs, hand-to-hand slugfests, knives, swords, and anti-aircraft missiles. They fall, they get up, they bleed, they get up, they scream, they get up, and on and on. There is  no story in any of this.

William Fichtner and Jodie Foster play the villains nicely. Earth looks suitably awful and worth running away from. Elysium appears beautiful and certainly worth trying to get to. But the whole thing left me flat. I just could not get past all the fighting to connect with any of the characters or to care about what happens in the end.

No Compelling Story in Elysium

Elysium, Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Neill Blomkamp

Flying in to Elysium

When lack of a compelling story drops me out of a movie, I start thinking about other things that appear on the big screen, like:

  • If the exoskeleton is screwed into Max’s real skeleton, how did he get that tee shirt on?
  • Did they have to use such big screws?
  • Why isn’t Max in a huge amount of pain?
  • If Max is suffering from radiation sickness, how come he only demonstrates two of the symptoms?
  • If Max is an ex-con, why doesn’t he know that robot police have no sense of humor?
  • If the shuttles can just fly in and out of Elysium, what’s holding the atmosphere in?
  • If the Earth is suffering from over-population, why are so many jobs held by robots? Robots are expensive but people are cheap.
  • If villain Kruger punches the lovely Frey in the face, why does her beautiful face not sport an ugly bruise and a fat lip?
  • Why does the shuttle pilot leave his seat to harass Max? His job is to fly the shuttle and keep it from crashing. (Epic fail)
  • Eeeeeuuuuwwww!! That’s just gross!

Too Much Fighting, Not Enough Logic

See what I mean? Too much fighting and not enough logic, attention to detail or suspense to hold my attention. Also insufficient character development, sparse and unsubtle dialog, and lack of subtlety overall. Elysium has a story in it somewhere but it plays second fiddle to all the action and bloodshed. (The people who make fake blood did very well with Elysium.) So I never got emotionally involved with any of the characters or cared that much about the story, such as it is.

Elysium was a big disappointment as I was hoping, finally, for a science fiction movie worthy of the special effects and CGI that got pumped into it. The critics mostly liked Elysium and Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 68% Fresh score for reasons that were not apparent to me as we left the theater. In this case, the fanboys got first class and the rest of us in the theater were just self-loading freight.