Movie review: “Elysium”–trying too hard?

In 2009, South African film director Neill Blomkamp put himself on the map with the brilliant sci-fi allegory “District 9,” a mockumentary about a group of aliens that crash-land in Johannesburg in the near future and the morally questionable ways the humans of the city keep them contained. Alongside the awe-inspiring visual effects used for the alien technology, “District 9” was impressive in that it told a very poignant story about segregation and intercultural conflict. The metaphor for South Africa’s infamous apartheid era was about as subtle as an atomic bomb, but it was nonetheless effective and gave Blomkamp a justly earned reputation as a skilled sci-fi storyteller.

“Elysium,” Blompkamp’s long-awaited followup to his cinematic debut, clearly tries to recapture that  politically aware facet of District 9. While the movie itself is very exciting and enjoyable, the underlying moral behind the story is oversimplified so much that it made me irritated.

The premise  behind the film is that 150 years in the future, Earth becomes so overpopulated and impoverished that the wealthy inhabitants of the planet retreat to a luxurious space station called Elysium in order to preserve their way of life. Elysium is a tranquil, clean and safe place to live. There are machines readily available that can heal any injury and cure any illness instantly. Since none of these cure-all machines are on Earth, some desperate people attempt to fly up to the station to heal themselves, where they are inevitably shot down or deported. The main character is Max (Matt Damon) who is a poor industrial worker on Earth. After a workplace accident leaves him with terminal radiation poisoning, he is outfitted with a powerful cybernetic exoskeleton and tasked to Elysium, where he finds himself ina a struggle to make Elysium open to all humans.

From an entertainment standpoint, “Elysium” is stellar. The futuristic technology and machines that are visible in almost every moment of the film are a wonder to behold and the action scenes, often involving people outfitted with power armor and high tech guns, are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi movie. The best part of the movie is Kruger, a mentally unstable Afrikaaner  mercenary played by Sharlto Copley. Kruger’s barely restrained rage and utter ruthlessness make him an extremely memorable villain.

The one thing that brings “Elysium” down is its ham-fisted message, a blatant critique of immigration and classism. The people that try to get onto Elysium are actually referred to as “undocumented” and “illegal immigrants” in the movie itself.

While this sort of theme can work well if handled correctly, “Elysium” displays none of the nuance and moral ambiguity that define these issues in real life. The citizens of Elysium have no reason not to provide the healing machines to the population of Earth other than pure spite and the upper class shown in this movie is nothing but a grossly inaccurate caricature of wealthy people in real life. Elysium shines when it showcases Blompkamp’s gloriously fleshed out vision of the future and doesn’t try to teach the audience a lesson. I highly recommend it as a sci-fi thrill ride, but if you want an insightful look at the debate over the growing wealth gap, you’d best look elsewhere.“Elysium”, Blomkamp’s long-awaited followup to his cinematic debut, clearly tries to recapture that politically aware facet of District 9. While the movie itself is very exciting and enjoyable, the underlying moral behind the story is oversimplified so much that it made me irritated.

The premise behind the film is that 150 years in the future, Earth becomes so overpopulated and impoverished that the wealthy inhabitants of the planet retreat to a luxurious space station called Elysium in order to preserve their way of life. Elysium is a tranquil, clean and safe place to live. There are machines readily available that can heal any injury and cure any illness instantly. Since none of these cure-all machines are on Earth, some desperate people attempt to fly up to the station to heal themselves, where they are inevitably shot down or deported.

The main character is Max (Matt Damon) who is a poor industrial worker on Earth. After a workplace accident leaves him with terminal radiation poisoning, he is outfitted with a powerful cybernetic exoskeleton and tasked to steal data from a corporate executive. This mission ultimately brings him to Elysium, where he finds himself in a struggle to make Elysium open to all humans.

From an entertainment standpoint, Elysium is stellar. The futuristic technology and machines that are visible in almost every moment of the film are a wonder to behold and the action scenes, often involving people outfitted with power armor and high tech guns, are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi movie. The best part of the movie is Kruger, a mentally unstable Afrikaaner mercenary played by Sharlto Copley. Kruger’s barely restrained rage and utter ruthlessness make him an extremely memorable villain.

The one thing that brings “Elysium” down is its ham-fisted message, a blatant critique of immigration and classism. The people that try to get onto Elysium are actually referred to as “undocumented” and “illegal immigrants” in the movie itself.

While this sort of theme can work well if handled correctly, “Elysium” displays none of the nuance and moral ambiguity that define these issues in real life. The citizens of Elysium have no reason not to provide the healing machines to the population of Earth other than pure spite and the upper class shown in this movie is nothing but a grossly inaccurate caricature of wealthy people in real life.

Elysium shines when it showcases Blomkamp’s gloriously fleshed out vision of the future and doesn’t try to teach the audience a lesson.  I highly recommend it as a sci-fi thrill ride, but if you want an insightful look at the debate over the growing wealth gap, you’d best look elsewhere.

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