In a dystopian, semi-near future, humanity is a downright mess. The world is incredibly overpopulated, with buildings that were once intended for industrial or office use converted into slum-like living quarters for the vastly overgrown population. Huts and shelters are built into skyscrapers, which have been scavenged for parts or anything of value.
The wealthy members of humanity can buy their way on to Elysium, an orbiting space-station with an artificial habitat and upscale community. The government, scientists, and major corporations all are stationed here. Elysium itself is a ring-shaped satellite with the habitat built inside the rim, which gives the city artificial gravity by way of centripetal force. No one from Earth is allowed in without going through the appropriate channels.(This review contains minor spoilers)
Elysium was set up brilliantly. The world and setting were amazing, and the plot was introduced beautifully. After that, it honestly felt a bit linear.
The story was good, but had potential for much more. I loved the concept of a separated humanity, with the upper-class alienating the lower class. The elitism of the ‘superior’ people and how they look down on those ‘less’ than them is repulsively fascinating. The story itself was built around the fact that Elysium had medical machines that could completely heal any approved citizen of Elysium of any disease or ailment. People from Earth would try to buy tickets to be smuggled onto Elysium, just to use these machines.
Our leading character, Max, receives a lethal dose of radiation while at work in a factory and his only hope for surviving the next few days is one of the medical machines on Elysium. This drives his entire character. He will do anything to get to these machines, even taking a data-theft job from an old associate who grafts a cybernetic exoskeleton to his body to assist him during the theft.
The theft entails stealing brain-data from the head of a government-contracted CEO, who is assisting the Defense Secretary of Elysium stage a coup so she can take over control of Elysium.
Here’s where the movie started to lose me.
There seemed to be no serious reason for the exoskeleton. Instead, the theft seemed more like an excuse to give Matt Damon awesome gear. And I will admit, it was kind of awesome. But it was almost completely unnecessary to the plot.
The Defense Secretary, played by the incredibly talented Jodie Foster, ended up not being the main antagonist. She was set up to be an amazing villain, with the right balance of cruelty, elitism, and self-justification, but her story ended only a little over halfway into the movie. The main antagonist instead turned out to be someone who was introduced as a minor character originally; a ‘black-ops’ special agent who worked for the Defense Secretary and then turned on her.
Also, remember how I said Max’s motivation the entire movie was to get to a machine to save his life? Right at the end, he changed his mind and decided to sacrifice his health for everyone on planet Earth. While it was the just, moral decision that you knew he had to make, there was no defining moment that changed his mind.
I did like the cast and how well the actors played their parts, save for one person. The big bad guy, the final boss, the epic confrontational force of a raving madman trying to take down the desperate ex-con, was played by the wimpy desk-worker lead character from District 9. Granted, Sharlto Copley looks a little more bad-ass with a big scruffy beard and body armor. But his body type still looked really wimpy, and his South African accent didn’t match his character at all, who had the very Russian/German-sounding name of Kruger. Maybe that is a common South African name and I just didn’t know it. Regardless, I think he could have been cast better.
The action was great, but almost seemed a bit canned. The fight scenes sometimes seemed dry, but they had their redeeming moments. There were some fantastically imaginative weapons that were only shown once or twice, like the homing rifle that detonated its ammo before it hit the target to increase shrapnel, and the energy shield. Why these didn’t make an appearance later on in the movie or in Elysium, where the higher-tech weapons should be, is beyond me.
The special effects were very well done, almost outshining the story in some points. The scene with Max shooting at Kruger with the homing rifle and the Kruger protects himself with an energy shield was especially awesome. The exoskeleton that Matt Damon’s character wore also seemed fairly believable, as did his cranial implants. The effects team also did a fairly good job with the police droids, who moved in a distinctly robot-like fashion, but still moved fluidly and without any choppiness.
One thing that bothered me though was the fact that Elysium didn’t seem to have any atmospheric barrier between the neighborhoods and buildings and the vacuum of space. The ships travelling to Elysium just kind of landed on the inside of the rim, which looked like it was open to space. If they mentioned a barrier, I didn’t catch it, and there wasn’t any visual indicator of it.
I know this review seems a bit negative, but I really did like the movie. I promise. I just think it had so much unused potential. I would still recommend it as a good movie to watch for those nights when your heart is set on sci-fi, and you don’t have anything specific you want to watch.