Cantankerous Critic: ‘Elysium’ A Rare Blockbuster With Half A Brain
by Michael Walters
The Cantankerous Critic
“Elysium” takes place in the 22nd century, but its vision of the future feels more like a trip into the sustained decay of the past.
Director Neill Blomkamp creates an Earth that seems like an overcrowded slum, belching pollution and decay, with no hope of redemption. The planet’s richest citizens have retreated to a space station orbiting the earth and taken their wealth, and promise with them. There they lounge around poolside while insulating themselves from the problems of the little guy.
Matt Damon is a factory worker and ex-con who dreams of one day making the trip to the orbiting paradise in the sky. When he’s doused with a fatal dose of radiation in a freak accident at work, he decides he’s got nothing to lose and conspires with an aspirational criminal network to kidnap a corporate tycoon, and find a way into the space station.
Damon spends much of the movie with a clunky mechanical exo-skeleton attached to his back. It and the rest of the technology on display seem to belong in the clunky, un-futuristic vein of an army of prototypes that never quite made it to the finished production version.
Meanwhile, a sinister Jodie Foster brings the hammer down on any insurgency as Elysium’s minister of defense. Channeling Dick Cheney, and sporting an accent of indeterminate origin, she literally destroys hundreds of women and children, while barely pausing to put down her teacup. But she’s also planning a coup to overthrow Elysium’s president, and install her own even harder-line regime.
The social commentary gets a little heavy-handed at times, and subtlety is definitely not this movie’s strong suit, but Damon still delivers the goods.
Blomkamp makes the special effects and big action set pieces work for his actors, instead of overwhelming them. Even the predictable mano-a-mano fight between Damon and a homicidal mercenary with a perverse taste for inflicting pain (District 9’s Sharlto Copley) is infused with an admirable intensity.
“Elysium” isn’t quite as smart as it thinks it is, but a blockbuster with half a brain is better than one with no brain at all.