Movie Reviews

TV Addict

DVD Extras

Ill-Literate (Book Reviews)

Listen, Hear (Music)

FilmStarrr (Celebrity Interviews)

Stuf ... (Product Reviews)

...and Nonsense (Site News)


Hit me up, yo! (Contact)




After the success of his debut feature, 2009ís District 9, one can hardly blame Neill Blomkamp for sticking to subjects close to his heart; science fiction and human inequality.  In District 9, he gave us a parable for the fear of the otherness of immigration in the form of actual CGI aliens stranded on earth and treated rather badly by humankind.  In Elysium, Blomkamp again examines the politics of class and separation with sci-fi trappings, but all the monsters here are from much closer to home than outer space.

Max DeCosta has never expected much.  Growing up as an orphan in the slums of a future California, there is no reason to believe there could be anything more than what he can hold in his hands at any given time.  That is a feeling reinforced every time Max looks up at the sky and sees a shuttle heading to the space station, Elysium, a man-made paradise, built to house the elite of the world.  On Elysium, the most wealthy and powerful are entitled to live forever, having access to amazing technology, including machines that can cure everything from laugh lines to cancer.  Part of the privilege of living on Elysium is in never having to interact with or even see a lesser being again.  Certainly the idea of sharing the lifesaving pods with the have-nots, no matter how dire their situation, would never occur.  The earth they left behind is one huge ghetto where tattooed gangs run whatever is not strictly controlled by fascistic robot police.  I guess if one is not human, one doesnít care much about human rights.  After the orphanage, Max wandered quite naturally into a life of crime, gaining a reputation as an impressive thief.  Attempting to leave that life of jail time behind, heís now a working-class dog clocking in at the factory where he assembles the androids who regularly violate his freedom for nothing more than trying to get to his job.  It is while at this factory - with safety conditions that would spin Sinclair Lewis in his grave - that an accident undoes Maxís whole world.  Massive exposure to radiation leaves him five days to live and he is determined to get onto Elysium no matter what the cost.  Whatís against his bid for survival is the policy of the Elysium government to shoot down any unauthorised ships near their airspace and hunt down any refugees that make it through.  The other complication is the mission Max is given by a local gangster that will serve as his payment for one illegal trip to Elysium.  Spider wants technology:  As the foremost refugee runner on Earth, for a very large fee, he will attempt to shuttle the sick and dying to Elysium by hacking into the space stationís systems to slip the ships in unnoticed.  This is only occasionally successful, and more often than not, fatal to the passengers.  To pull off the greatest hack of all, Spider needs the data inside of the head of John Carlyle, an Elysium businessman.  Max turning up at deathís door is heaven-sent as he can be a prime guinea pig for a high-tech exo-skeleton that will simultaneously shore up his frail body, while making him a living external hard drive able to hijack the mogulĎs data.  However, on Elysium, that mogulís brain is very precious to Secretary Delacourt, whose lethally aggressive stance against the trespassers puts her at odds with Elysiumís president, who she means to overthrow.  She needs Carlyle to achieve the coup, so when Max jumps into action and kidnaps Carlyleís ship and downloads the information, she sends a team of vicious bounty hunters to save her golden goose.  Max now becomes hunted and despite the exo-skeleton, the radiation takes its toll.  He works out a deal with the mercenaries to get him to Elysium in exchange for the data; an act that will doom the earth to an eternity of status quo should he give it up.  Will his survivorís instincts win out over saving the world?

Elysium is definitely a rehash of many of District 9ís themes of the haves and have-nots; the unfair treatment of those deemed different from us and sacrifices made to put things right.  What District 9 had going for it that Elysium does not is the investment in the science fiction aspect of the story; primarily, the bug-like, extraterrestrial ďprawns,Ē which kept a pretty basic (though entirely worthy) morality tale from being boring.  In Elysium, the prospect of the exo-skeleton literally drilled into Maxís bones and brain is great at first, despite its visual clumsiness, but thereís no sort of Ďgetting to know youí sequence where we can see what the thing can actually do.  Itís suggested that it should make Max stronger, better, faster, etc., but thereís nothing particularly exemplary shown until the last fifteen minutes of the film, when a bad guy gets a hold of his own mechanical spine and performs an impossibly high jump ŗ la 1970s kung fu movies.  Thatís pretty much it for that contraption.  Thereís one ghastly but cool scene which shows us what the other fantasy tech, the medical pod, can actually do when a villainís face is literally blown to pieces and it is reformed before our eyes.  More moments like that, though not as grotesque, would have been appreciated.  Elysium itself looks awfully flat with overlapping palatial homes that are a gaudy mix of Beverly Hills and Lake Como.  Itís hard to get immersed in the world because everything looks very one-dimensional.  The slums of California are as convincing as the slums Blomkamp filmed for District 9, with the gray dust covering everything, shanties everywhere and the unwashed poor.  He couldíve easily used the earlier film footage for stock.  The ghettoes do resemble the favelas of Rio de Janiero, but only somewhat; there are still slightly more civilised places left, but they appear to be hanging on by a thread.  Also, instead of drawing analogies to the treatment of blacks as was in Blomkampís homeland of South Africa where District 9 took place, the writer/director makes Latinos the Ďotherí this time around, which fits in well with the current hatred by the anti-immigration faction in this country.  A nightmare for some ultra-right-wingers, Spanish is fluently spoken by all in this latter-day California, but it is troubling that the power left on earth has been usurped by Latino gangs, which also falls into racist rhetoric in a bad way, though ostensibly no worse than the black gun runners in D9.  Blomkampís return to a dystopian future is less riveting than his first trip due to its lack of magic or new inspiration, though there are aspects that save Elysium from being utterly unremarkable.  First would be the great cast, with Matt Damon as the beleaguered hero, Max, whose best efforts to do right always seem to go wrong.  Thereís a rare appearance by Jodie Foster, coldly terrifying as Secretary Delacourt, the apparent love child of Dick Cheney and Margaret Thatcher. Delacourt uses her own motherhood as an excuse to brutally execute other human beings, including children, on the off-chance their poverty might infect the purity of Elysium.  In an over-the-top turn, Wagner Moura is the Latino-ish data hacker, Spider, working an accent even Ricky Ricardo couldnít understand.  District 9 star, Sharlto Copley is the superbad bounty hunter, Kruger, who, outside of his pervy way around a woman is really only frightening when we realise heís incapable of shutting up his ceaseless, high-pitched harangues, even while being pulverised.  As if specifically for my enjoyment, Diego Luna makes a way-too-brief cameo in adorable pigtails as Maxís old running buddy from their crimetime together.

Ultimately, the idea of Elysium is more admirable than its execution.  The struggles of the poor versus the advantages of the wealthy is ever fodder for morality plays, and the balancing of those scales is always grist for the cinematic mill.  The sci-fi-tastic means used to even the odds should have been more entertaining than they were, but the film manages to balance its own iniquities and capable performances keep Elysium from being completely forgettable.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

August 2nd, 2013




Follow TheDivaReview on Twitter




© 2006-2022 The Diva Review.com





(Stills Courtesy of  Sony Pictures)








Do Your Bit for


Donít hesitate,

just donate.