Tuesday 23 March 2021

Movie Review: Elysium (2013)

A science fiction allegory of the global immigration crisis, Elysium offers an initially compelling vision but quickly unravels.

In the year 2154, Earth is in a decrepit and diseased state. The wealthy have fled to the Elysium space station where they enjoy a life of luxury with advanced health services. In Los Angeles, Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-convict trying to go straight and working at the Armadyne factory constructing security robots. On Elysium, power-hungry Defence Secretary Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) colludes with Armadyne CEO John Carlyle (William Fichtner) to reprogram the space station's software and install her as President.

A workplace accident results in Max needing immediate advanced medical care available only on Elysium. He partners with human smuggler Spider (Wagner Moura) in a plot to kidnap Carlyle and use his knowledge as leverage to gain access to the space station. But Jessica activates Earth-based undercover agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to disrupt the plan. Max is soon on the run and in possession of information vital for the future of humanity.

Writer and director Neill Blomkamp does not try to camouflage his metaphorical references. Elysium is a straightforward extrapolation of current-day population movement tensions, with the disadvantaged willing to undergo hazardous journeys for the promise of better opportunities, and human smugglers happy to prey on the weak. The wealthy are mostly white and living in flawlessly idyllic homes, while the scrappy earthlings are predominantly brown and occupying shantytowns. Fashions and haircuts will apparently barely evolve in 150 years.

But despite good intentions, a willing Matt Damon and some slick visuals, Elysium (in Greek mythology, a paradise-like home of the blessed after death) is quickly perforated by too many self-defeating weaknesses. Jessica's coup d'├ętat plot is hastily conceived and barely explained, Jodie Foster's robotic performance registering a career low. The main MacGuffin is world-altering software completed by one man in a matter of minutes then subjected to the complication of brain implantation instead of simple transmittal or uploading.

Blomkamp's short-cuts and internal inconsistencies are frequently exposed. Human smuggler Spider is somehow able to decipher massive amounts of arcane code without even looking at the screens displaying gibberish. Some illegal spaceships are allowed to land at Elysium while others are unceremoniously blown out of the sky. And somewhere along the line, a political power grab becomes a potential pathway to citizenship and medicare for one and all.

In a plastic attempt at a backstory, Max is provided with a friend-from-childhood Frey (Alice Braga) and her sick child, who both mostly exist to get in the way. With the more interesting and powerful villains exiting early, Max is left to tangle with Kruger and his henchmen to save humanity. He need not have bothered: this paradise is lost.

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