Elysium, the sophomore effort of Neill Blomkamp, whose previous work, District 9, was one of the most exciting, unique, and intelligent sci-fi films in recent memory, is a film with a lot of potential. Elysium seeks to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps, but despite a bigger budget, and superstars like Matt Damon, Elysium cannot quite fill District 9’s shoes.
The primary issue lies in the film’s script and characters. Matt Damon and company try to create good performances, but the script never allows them to go beyond the surface.
This is particularly apparent with talented newcomer Sharlto Copley, who plays the repulsive mercenary Kruger with a remarkable amount of humanity but never gets the chance to show who Kruger really is.
Similarly, the film never truly explores all the depth and color of its own world. The titular Elysium never becomes more than a “rich people paradise.”
Earth is never shown as anything other than a garbage heap. Saddest of all, Blomkamp sincerely tries to tackle serious issues like poverty, the health care system, and immigration only to frequently take cheesy narrative easy outs. Coming from the director and writer of as unique and insightful a film as District 9, this simplicity is disappointing.
Yet it is not simply Elysium’s plot that lacks depth and insight. The haphazard fusion of cultural and racial identities without much context leaves much to be desired. Why is a character with a name like Max La Costa, in a futuristic Los Angeles, amidst a mostly hispanic population that can switch between English and Spanish in a heartbeat… played by Matt Damon? Why is there an Afrikaner commando working for a French politician in the middle of Los Angeles? Why does the final battle take place amongst cherry blossoms with one guy wielding shurikens and a katana? This cultural fusion would be great if the film integrated its diverse parts into a unique, unified whole (think Firefly: cowboys in a deep space Chinese future). Yet Elysium’s parts do not add up to a cohesive singular world. If it does, it is a land of confusion.
While short on story, the film does deliver on fun. It’s clear most of the budget went into the film’s many gunfights and they are a nasty, bloody treat to watch. That being said, audiences who don’t enjoy seeing a guy get his face blown off may want to seek lighter fare. Outside of the action, the sound and visuals are decent. The film does a good job of making its futuristic world and technology look real but don’t expect any memorable shots or score. In Elysium, adequate is the name of the game.
Ultimately, Elysium is not a bad film; just one that is only skin deep. It doesn’t fully explore the themes, characters or world it seeks to portray. It doesn’t combine the mish-mash elements of its universe into something comprehensible. It only provides a decent excuse for its characters to go shoot things up. Shoot em ups are nice, but Neill Blomkamp’s previous work District 9 proves that Elysium could have been so much more.