Review: Elysium

On its surface Elysium is a sci-fi action flick that, although very entertaining, doesn't live up to the depth of director Neill Blomkamp's first movie, District 9. That was my first impression after seeing the film about a day or two after it was released here in the US. I was ready to write it off as a fun, but shallower movie with some issues that I was ready to forget—and it took a friend's post on Facebook to make me take a second look at the film.

As District 9 was Mr. Blomkamp's examination of racism through a sci-fi lens, so Elysium is his exploration of economic disparity and class attitudes through the same camera. It's premise seems a bit thin in this regard. The story has been told a thousand times over throughout history through such works as Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, James Whitcomb Riley's Little Orphan Annie (which inspired the comic strip, Broadway show, and the movie), and Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, etc. There really isn't much of a twist on the set up, and in that sense the movie feels a bit tired, though the tech is a bit fun to watch in action.

There are many wasted opportunities to tell a deeper story, and Mr. Blomkamp misses them in a rather spectacular fashion. For example, there should have been more of a link between the main character, Max, and the character John Carlyle that would have made certain moments much more poignant (I have to wonder if there were cut scenes that never made it in). Although Matt Damon makes Max a likable character, he is overshadowed by the character development and growth of Spider—a side character who really steals the show. I found myself cheering for and being fascinated by how he changes through the film, and had the focus been on Spider instead of Max, the movie probably would have been better.

I felt the ending was a bit unrealistic, and that was the moment of my biggest disappointment until I saw the post on Facebook that got me thinking. Although I still stand by the statements above, the post pointed out that there was a deeper philosophical meaning to the movie that went right over my head.

Elysium, despite its problems, can be viewed as a movie about the unfairness of the coming age where technology has the ability to solve most of our big problems—sickness, the environment, poverty—and yet it is prevented from doing so by the greed/elitism of those who produce it. Viewing Elysium from this vantage it does become a movie that approaches the depth of District 9, though it deepens the shame of the film's failure to do so at the same time  If the focus had been more on these issues and less on "action! yeah!" perhaps Elysium would have been a truly great thought-provoker instead of an okay action movie.


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