Dir by Neill Blomkamp
Wow, this was supposed to be the film that saved the summer for me. I’m a grown ass man, I should know better than to pin all my hopes on any one thing, lest of all expect something to “save” a season. I loved District 9, thought it was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale sci-fi genre. Loved it so much I thought Blomkamp would be the cock of the walk for as long as he wanted. Sony must have thought so too because they took the same hands-off approach they did with D9. All things considered, though, it looks like Peter Jackson may have had more influence on how the script flowed than anyone let on.
Elysium stars MATT DAY-MON as Max, an ex-con trying to make his way through life working on an assembly line in a robot manufacturing plant. (This will be important later). Los Angeles is filled with low-income, Spanish speaking people who ride the bus to work every day and have little access to health care. In other words, it’s LA today and since the buses look like they ran on time it’s better than Orlando. Max grew up in an orphanage and met a girl named Frey (who grows up to be Alice Braga), promising her to one day take them both to the fabled Elysium, a massive spinning 5-point space station apparently in geosynchronous orbit above the western United States. People can see Elysium from the ground, during the day, that’s how big the fucking thing is. Playing the ultimate game of Halo, the rich live on the inner ring of the station. The movie never reveals how many people Elysium can safely house, but it looks big enough to hold a few million.
Elysium is where the government is placed, though whose government is never explained. Is Elysium the US’s territory, the UN’s? Where are the Chinese? Did they fuck off to Mars or one of Jupiter’s moons? How do they wealthy stay wealthy in space if there is nothing to make or sell on earth except disposable robots and shattered dreams? I’ve got news for you: there are a lot of wealthy people on this planet that got rich off the backs of poor people. The LA of 2154 has massive poverty but no markets other than robots and health care. So how the fuck does anyone ever buy their way up?
Max’s job entails putting robots together on an assembly line. For reasons the movie doesn’t explain, the robots have to be put in a chamber and irradiated. Why? Who the hell knows. One day the palette in the chamber gets stuck, and Max’s foreman forces him to go in there and manually set it free. He threatens to fire him on the spot if he doesn’t risk his life at a pay rate of just above minimum wage. Did I mention LA in 2154 is a libertarian paradise? Oh how I delighted in the capitalistic exploitation of the common worker. My sense of wealthy entitlement puffed up so much I went out to the lobby and started pelting the concession workers with Milk Duds. “Dance,” I exclaimed, “dance for I am the consumer and you must adhere to all my whims and desires. Dance, little puppets, DANCE!”
Anyway, of course as soon as Max wrenches the pallette free the door closes and he takes a lethal dose of radiation. Again, why in the hell was this a necessary step in robot manufacturing? Where was OSHA with the manager hearings and disciplinary reports? Where was the descendant of Michael Moore? What’s that? On the space station? Yes, I suppose the wealthy needed feux objective documentaries made for their amusement. Max’s only hope to live is in one of the MAGIC MED-BAYS housed exclusively on Elysium. These things are amazing, can automatically and WITHOUT SURGERY fix everything from broken bones to childhood leukemia! How? Fuck you, that’s how! Scarcity? Health care shortages? Hey these MED-BAYS require massive amounts of power to operate. . .what’s that? You mean we can store 2 dozen of these on a shuttle with minimum power requirements? Well what the hell are we hoarding them for? Oh right, the movie is a farce.
William Fitchner shows up briefly as John Carlyle, the man who owns the robot factory Max works in. Alright let’s get this out of the way: WHY DON’T THE ROBOTS MAKE THE OTHER ROBOTS? There, just needed to get that out there. Carlyle is contacted by Secretary Delacourt, played by Jodie Foster, pulling her accent from somewhere in the Gamma quadrant, Delacourt went to the H. Clinton school of warmongering where she majored in the S. King (Iowa) program of HATING THE GODDAMN ILLEGALS! She’s got a major problem with how the President (Faran Tahir) hamstrings her ability to Get The Job Done so she concocts a coup with Carlysle, the man who programed and built the large CPU that runs Elysiums political infrastructure. Hey, you hear that IT nerds? In the future you really will run this shit! Unfortunately, the Med-Bay cannot cure Chronic Virginity, and if you honestly think sex work is decriminalized in the farcical world of Elysium, well, them’s the breaks son. Work on your game.
So Fitchner is the best part of the movie; he really knows how to play a slime ball well and seems to relish the role. He is, unfortunately, responsible for one of two moments that made me bust out of laughing in a manner I don’t think was intended. There is a scene where his shuttle is crashing and when it hits an air pocket he lets out a little squeak of fright. It must be heard to be believed. The other moment occured when a shuttle of, well, Earth refugees crashes onto the inner ring of the station, and as the people flee the wreckage, a group of WEALTHY WHITE FOLK nearby start fleeing for the goddamned lives in abject terror.
Run for your lives, it’s UNDOCUMENTED ILLEGAL ALIENS!
D9’s Sharlto Copley shows up as Kruger, a violent sociopathic mercernary. Wait, I’m being unfair. Every rich person in the movie is a sociopath that cannot be reasoned with, that’s why I think the movie is a farce. The bulk of Elysium’s action come from the fights between Kruger and Max, who is given an exo-skeleton by his old car thief boss, Spider (Wagner Moura). Since I found it hard to get immersed into the story and the characters, it was also hard for me to find entertainment in the action. Blomkamp uses a mixture of extreme close-ups and weird over the shoulder angles for the action scenes, and they really aren’t suited for an IMAX screen. The action reminded me of the second Transformers movie, at least in IMAX. That was a damn shame as I thought the action blended well with the story in D9.
Blomkamp publicly stated that he wasn’t trying to make a socio-political allegory, and that anyone who tried to do that with a sci-fi genre is a fool. I think Alfonso Cuaron would have something to say about that, but whatever. Elysium is not totally devoid of merit even with ridiculous set design like having all the OS’s and communication devices look like they were programmed with DOS. I guess in Elysium’s world Apple never took off. Ultimately the little things that bothered me outweighed the stuff I thought was cool (the robots) and I walked out of the theater with the same feeling of disappointment I’ve felt all summer. Hollywood, you’ve been bested by The Last of Us, a friggin’ video game!