Elysium: Is the film really worth your time?

Written by AdamDFelman

With Oblivion, After Earth, Cloud Atlas, The World’s End and This Is The End, the moguls in Hollywood seem to be overcompensating hard for the

With Oblivion, After Earth, Cloud Atlas, The World’s End and This Is The End, the moguls in Hollywood seem to be overcompensating hard for the fact that the society didn’t end when the Mayans said it would. Silly Mayans.

I have enough trouble getting to the end of the week, let alone life as we know it. Bring on yet another dystopian action thriller in the form of Elysium, from District 9 wunderkind Neil Blomkampf.

Matt Damon plays yet another everyman fighting a power many miles out of his league. He is a factory worker who gets exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and needs to get to Elysium, a space station for the privileged who get to stay young forever and own machines that cure you of any disease instantly. He has a previous acquaintance who can organise this for him.

All he has to do is have a bionic spider-arm suit thing surgically fitted to him (with electric drills, no less) and steal information from the CEO’s brain. No sweat.

Veers a little further down fancy lane

District 9 was a tour-de-force is sci-fi originality, and stands up among the better sci-fi films of the last decade. Its naturalistic The-Office-with-Apartheid-alien-beings style made its message clear, conversational and authentic.

Elysium veers off a little further down fancy lane, popping into Space for hijinks from time to time and cranking technology up several notches, setting the action halfway through the twenty-second century. It’s visually impressive, slowing down explosions and bullet collisions and pissing about with some nifty CGI camera-angle jiggery pokery.

The ‘facial reconstruction’ scene is impressive as well, a step forward for grisly effects even though it looks prosthetic (in a good way.) Matt Damon puts on a brave face after taking on just about every injury a man can endure and looks distinctive with a shaved head. He’s a likeable enough lead just about every time he plays this role, and it’s no different here. You really root for the guy.

Borrows from too many other places

Unfortunately, the film borrows from too many other places to really hit home. The L.A. in the year 2158 looks like City of God by way of Wall-E and there elements of the plot directly stolen from both Total Recall films. The antagonists are played at an off-note – Jodie Foster aims for icy cool as the Secretary General of Elysium, but hits blank-faced clipped RP agitation.

Sharlto Copley is hilariously weird and completely misses the mark as sociopathic marksman Kruger (really?) and, despite having bulked up considerably, does nothing except yelling badly crafted threats in a thick, unintelligible South African accent.

Message hindered

Unfortunately, the message is hindered by way of its central conceit, making the instantaneous medical care on Elysium available for those who aren’t part of the social elite. It reeks of an Obamacare allegory, but unfortunately the Earth shown in 2158 seems to have far more in the way of problems than its diseases. The whole pursuit is fruitless if it doesn’t eradicate poverty, overpopulation, crime and an absence of anything but the most rudimentary secondary industry. Sorry Matt Damon. You haven’t really won anything this time.

Phillip K. Dick is my benchmark for dystopian fiction, and the story and certain elements of it echo Dick (trying very hard not to titter over here) more strongly than, for example, any adaptation of We Remember It For You Wholesale (i.e. Total Recall) or the Scott Blade Runner noir-tinged take on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

For that I am grateful.

Still a visual treat

Blomkampf’s tale of the idyllic space station lifestyles of the privileged is ripe for the bureaucratic satire and sly, pulpy sideswipes Dick is so accustomed to. The automated parole officer is a stroke of genius. Unfortunately, he does not maximise on the Dickian potential of the concept and instead opts for weirdly paced action.

I would recommend Elysium. It’s more disposable than it should be, but still a visual treat and a diverting way to kill time. Just avoid surgery before/after.

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