Written & Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Looking back at it now, from the drowsy depths of September, “Elysium” was supposed to be one of the two EVENT MOVIES of August, along with “The World’s End”. It was supposed to be a lithe, intelligent sci-fi send-up of the class system. It was to be to capitalism what “District 9” was to apartheid. But with a budget, with fully-backed studio marketing, with Jason Bourne himself. And it is that, to an extent. But, somehow, with sharper tools Blomkamp has given us something duller than his brilliant feature debut “District 9”. I left “Elysium” feeling underwhelmed and proselytized to. Though this may well be the result of studio interference, but for better or worse the blame and credit always lands with the director, and in “Elysium” Blomkamp plants a seed of doubt that his brilliant debut (itself based upon a brilliant short) may have been a bit of a fluke.
While not one character has anything more than one shade to play with it is Jodie Foster’s anti-utilitarian figurehead who suffers the most. Stranded without a distinct personality Jodie plays frosty and ambitious (the sister of Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood) while borrowing from a series of accents that would confuse and astonish even the most senior interpreter at the United Nations. Matt Damon, for his part is fully dedicated to the illusion that he is in a much better movie than he is. When his character becomes radiated on the job and given a prognosis of only-enough-time-to-live-to-neatly-wrap-up-the-story he departs for a destined journey to the mystical Elysium, so near but so far.
But perhaps the most blatant of “Elysium”’s flaws is in its initial concept. If, in 2154, the proletariat are left to scrounge upon the Earth below the floating utopia that is Elysium why would the one percent, then, hoard their medical technology (a PS3 type of MRI cure-all) as opposed to monetizing and distributing it to those who so need it down below? Silly to skewer capitalism – and using the ideology as a MacGuffin – but gloss over this obvious supply-and-demand.
There is an interesting argument from the film cognoscenti that the truly deplorable films are not the Adam Sandler vehicles or Summer’s animated sequels, but those films that could have been and truly should have been so much more than they were. Think “Nine”, and “Blindness”, and anything Reese Witherspoon has done since “Friends” went off the air. If you are of such a mind then “Elysium” cannot be anything but a failure, a high concept sc-fi allegory with an elite cast and one of the brightest talents calling the shots that goes through all the gritty motions. Unfortunately, Neill Blomkamp mistakes a bigger budget for a heavier hand, and as a result this is nothing more than 2013’s “Promethus”.