We call it Halo– oops, I meant Elysium.
Elysium is a very specific movie for a very specific audience, a science-fiction film that is too illogical to be taken seriously, yet too solemn to have any good fun. Whenever I attend the movies, I expect either a thought-provoking story trying to instill some idea in its viewers, or an engaging, fun picture intended for the enjoyment of its audience. Never have I seen two tones clash with each other so furiously in a motion picture.
Taking place in the future of 2033, Elysium tells the story of Max Dacosta (Matt Damon), a poor young orphan who is stranded on the destitute slums on Earth since pollution and overpopulation took whatever life it had left long ago. The poor live on Earth while the rich live on an off-world, ring-shaped preservation called “Elysium”, where the fortunate carry out their spoiled, lavish lifestyles and cure diseases in these “health pods” that more or less reboot their bodies. Feeling sick, drowsy or nauseous? Not on Elysium.
Since he lives on Earth, Max is stuck to his harsh day job as a construction worker, building the guard robots that patrol and abuse the citizens on Earth on a daily basis. One day, however, a full, fatal blast of radiation doses him at his work place. Having only five days left to live, Max joins the rebellion on Earth and hatches a scheme to get to Elysium and get himself cured.
A notice to the visual effects designer that handled the majority of the film’s designs: I’m suing you for plagiarism. Video game fans will notice this more than me, but every single piece of designs for Elysium, the machines and anything else in the movie bears a strikingly similar resemblance to a Microsoft video game called Halo. Look it up. The robots, the armor, the weapons, the vehicles,the landscape, even the ring design of Elysium all bear multiple similarities to their counterparts in that video game to the point where it is no longer inspiration and becomes an issue of copyright. Frankly, I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t sued them already.
Back to the matter at hand. What is there to say about this movie? Well, it’s written and directed by Neil Blomkamp, the same filmmaker behind District 9, who ironically was also in the running for adapting the Halo movie to the big screen. Matt Damon is the lead, a role previously offered to white rappers Eminem and Ninja, and Sharlto Copley plays a vicious bounty hunter that’s chasing after Dacosta, a sharp contrast to the bureaucratic role he adopted in his first collaboration with Blomkamp in District 9.
I myself have not seen District 9, although I’ve really wanted to. The words I’ve heard to describe the movie have been praising nonetheless, with phrases I’ve heard including “greatly entertaining”, “raw and intensely-blooded”, “aggressively original”, and “an un-compromising geo-political/xenophobic commentary.”
I feel like everything I heard about District 9 is everything that Elysium isn’t, save for all of the pointless blood and gore. Don’t get me wrong, there are good parts in Elysium, but that’s all they are: complete, fully realized parts of one broken, misshapen whole. The first hour is absolutely mesmerizing, immersing us in this world full of spectacle, bigotry and the unfair treatment of social classes. I love the opening sequence of the film because it painted a picture in between Earth and Elysium similarly to how one paints a picture of the rich and the poor. It truly touched and gripped me, preparing me for an exhilarating experience filled with deepness and social commentary.
So what happened? Matt Damon gets doused with radiation and he straps on a large freakin’ robot suit that is about as lumpy and inconvenient as the metal suit Tony builds at the beginning of Iron Man. All of the emotional relevance I talked about at the beginning of the movie is now gone. What’s in the place of the drama and the social commentary is an action movie, filled with all sorts of the gunshots, robots, big ships, and the machine “whilring” sounds all the same. The worst part? None of the action is either original or exhilarating. It’s just an awkward boxing match of punches and grabs that looks about as visually appealing as a round of “Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots”.
Oh, Matt Damon does a good job being a puppet in the movie, but that’s all he is: a puppet, with no emotional gravity or relevance until the end of the picture. But even then, what do we have for the other 120 minutes? Just the typical bad boy character with big muscles dragging around a metal suit and shouting the F-word.
There are also multiple lapses in the film’s logic that can’t help but bother me. Why doesn’t Elysium have any defense systems? Why do they have to rely on a bounty hunter to shoot some spaceships down from the grounds on Earth? How can you aim at ships in space when you can’t even see them from the planet? Why does Max experience headaches randomly that are neither explained or elaborated? Why does it take one person multiple hours and a lot of painkillers to surgically install armor, whereas it takes another person mere minutes to put it on?
The worst, and most frustrating hole, however, comes from Elysium itself. Do the inhabitants there realize that Earth’s inhabitants are not after their home, but rather, their healing pods that they keep exclusively on Elysium? That’s why they invade the preservation, for crying out loud. Why, then, are they so selfish in keeping those pods and not at least building a few for the hospitals on Earth? The U.S. used to spend over $50,000 on foreign aid to other counties, and Elysium is obviously much better off than we are. Are Elysium’s inhabitants really so stupid to not realize that if they built a few of those pods down to earth, the tension would ease and they perhaps would be left alone? Their attitude is so selfish to the point that their actions are no longer sees as cruel and they begin to seem less realistic.
Yes, it paints imagery of the rich and the poor. Yes, it has its own philosophy of racism and social class. Yes, it has messages on healthcare and humanity. Laddy-freaking-da. What is the point of the messages if the film is no good? We were supposed to get a film that was smart, exciting, and dramatic. What we got instead from Elysium was an experience that is dull, confusing, and uninspired.