They came for Matt Damon’s brain! “Elysium”

September 14, 2013


Elysium is the latest sci-fi adventure-cum-social commentary by Neill Blomkamp and his follow-up to the surprise hit District 9. Even more than that movie, Elysium is shot through with a healthy dose of indignation, and points an accusing finger not simply at a racist social system (now defunct), but at a world that tolerates gross inequality. You know, before we get to the “blowing shit up” parts. Now, with two major releases under his belt, it’s safe to say that Blomkamp has a keen imagination for world-building and creating sci-fi tales that move out naturally from our world. And then setting loose killer robots to blow it all up.

In Elysium, Blomkamp envisions an Earth so poisoned and overpopulated that the wealthy have basically said, “fuck this noise” and constructed a great space station called Elysium. For the haves, Elysium offers perfectly-manicured lawns, big houses, and, best of all, magical medical pods that cure anything from cancer to old age to a grenade in the face. It’s basically what progressives imagine a world run by Barack Obama would become. Earth is one massive failed-state—a polluted, dilapidated slum, overrun with tatted-up Latino toughs. Basically what Republicans imagine a world run by Barack Obama would become.

Why does LA always suck in the future?

Why does LA always suck in the future?

Matt Damon plays Max, a denizen of the Cursed Earth, who grew up in an orphanage run by Spanish nuns, and where he promised his sweetheart Frey that one day he’d take her to Elysium. Fast-forward a couple years and Max is a reformed thief working a crappy factory job and Frey (now played by Alice Braga) is a nurse with a sickly daughter. When an accident at work gives Max a lethal dose of radiation, he teams up with his old criminal contact, Spider (yes, that’s his name) to steal some data from an Elysium-dwelling bigwig who runs Max’s factory. If he succeeds, Spider promises to smuggle him into Elysium. To help him out, Spider bolts a robotic exo-skeleton on Max giving him sooper—strength.

"Just lemme download Angry Birds, and...done!"

“Just lemme download Angry Birds, and…done!”

Alas, something is rotten in the state of Elysium, as the eeevil Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster with a weird accent) is tired of the President’s “don’t blow up illegal immigrants” policy and is attempting to stage a coup. This somehow requires the main computer to be rebooted, and the only guy who can do that is corporate billionaire John Carlyle (William Fichtner—awesome as ever), who also happens to be the target of Max’s data heist.

So Max stumbles into a bad situation, as Delacourt has dispatched her main tool of destruction to recover Carlyle. That tool of destruction is a mainline psychopath/security contractor named Kruger (Sharlto Copley), and when he arrives too late to save Carlyle, his next mission is to do anything to recover the info that’s been downloaded into Max’s brain.

I suspect this might be the bad guy...

I suspect this might be the bad guy…

Long story short, Kruger and Max blow a lot of shit up on Earth, then make their way to Elysium. Once there everything goes to hell, when Kruger goes off-the-rails insane and decides to stage his own coup—pretty much for fun as near as I can tell. Meanwhile Max is trying to use his head-data to allow the Morlocks on Earth to be able to access Elysium’s magic medical technology.

Elysium is a solid, exciting action movie that moves at a nice clip, and presents a lot of familiar sci-fi staples. The tech, the spaceships, weapons, and especially Elysium itself are all well-realized. Blomkamp nicely thinks outward from our own overly-militarized world. The soldiers and their toys all look like something we could see in a couple years deployed in some (probably Middle Eastern) country.

Exclusive Elysium, where you have a view of...the other part of Elysium.

Exclusive Elysium, where you have a view of…the other part of Elysium.

No, the look and action of Elysium aren’t the problem. The problems crop up in the concept and the story. The movie seems like Blomkamp spent a couple days watching leftie documentaries and then banged out a screenplay. Sci-fi can be forgiven for being unambiguous in its worldview—hell, look at Star Wars—but when that world breaks down under basic scrutiny like a Jenga tower built by wasted frat dudes, well, then you have a problem. What do I mean? Okay:

* No two ways about it: the medical tech here is magic. Hell, even Star Trek medicine had its limitations (they couldn’t regrow Picard’s hair or reign in Kirk’s waistline after all), but this shit just makes you damn near immortal. Now, wouldn’t this tech logically expand to other stuff? Like, say, fixing the Earth’s environment?

* On that point, Elysium’s First World/Third World allegory is woefully off-base. Countries do not end up failed states because they lack technology or resources, but due to a complex web of social factors. Jordan is a resource-poor country that is nonetheless pretty affluent and stable. Almost all of West Africa is absurdly rich in resources but there isn’t a stable country in the region. Sure, technology and resources would help, but they’re not a magic bullet.

"Konichiwa, bitches!"

“Konichiwa, bitches!”

* How does Elysium work? How does it run? What do people do when they’re not holding garden parties? I sure don’t know, since we never see life on Elysium except for the aforementioned garden parties and some generic-looking control rooms. Hell, we never even see more than a handful of residents and they’re mostly extras.

* This movie thinks that a knife wound to the abdomen is something you can just cure (on Earth and not in a magic medical pod), as Frey stitches up Max and he’s good to go. No problems due to blood-loss, and he doesn’t even reopen his wound during any of the many subsequent fights he has.

It's like if RoboCop was made by Honda.

It’s like if RoboCop was made by Honda.

* This movie only works because no one is particularly smart: Delacourt relies on a (diagnosed) insane, violent merc; Kruger tries to kill Max, then uses Frey as a hostage, rather than just dealing for the info in his head; Carlyle is richer than god but still tools around Earth in an unarmored, wildly extravagent shuttle with only one robot guard. Shit, Spider’s the only dude who knows that he’s doing in this movie.

Well, we finally have flying cars...and they're lame.

Well, we finally have flying cars…and they’re lame.

* How does bringing the medical technology to Earth present a huge triumph? I mean, yay! Everyone’s heathy! That, uh, that doesn’t fix the overpopulation problem. Kind of the opposite, really.

* And how does Elysium not face a crippling overpopulation problem of its own? They mention that people are having children, but if everyone’s living a hella long time…well, you see where I’m going with this.

Well, Earth still has CrossFit, it seems.

Well, Earth still has CrossFit, it seems.

* How does Kruger shoot down a shuttle that is within visual-distance of Elysium with a shoulder-mounted rocket? How fast does that thing go? What kind of fuel is it running on?

* Elysium is described as having “suburban areas.” Does that mean it has cities? Are they polluted, too? Or crowded?

* Carlyle’s business is said to be facing financial difficulties. Why? They make robots, and as we see robots run everything on Earth.

* As a kid, Max is told by one of the nuns at the orphanage that he was “meant to do something important.” Because in sci-fi and fantasy everyone has a destiny or is The Chosen One or some such twaddle.

"You have a destiny...to punch anther cyborg in the face."

“You have a destiny…to punch another cyborg in the face.”

* How many movies have featured characters called “Spider?” Has anyone gone by that name? Ever?

* Wait a minute! Kruger takes a grenade to the face, but they can fix him because he has normal brain activity? How the hell is it possible his brain wasn’t pureed by the same blast that took off half his skull?

* I have no idea what the movie is trying to say with the hippo story.

Anyway, that’s Elysium. Guess we should have included that public option in Obamacare, huh?


  1. It was just ..I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. A truly “meh”
    eally hate the shaky camera bullshit & The over-reliance on coincidence to advance the story
    Matt Damon is too good of an actor for this material

    • Yeah, anyone could have played that role. Damon needs to take more challenging parts.

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