Article: Liam Fitz-Gerald – Contributor
If Christopher Nolan’s 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises had a political subtext of fearing a revolutionary mob, than Neill Blomkamp’s summer blockbuster Elysium is its antithesis. The only difference is that Blomkamp’s film doesn’t need subtext; his message is apparent through the entire movie and is the driving point behind the plot.
All in all, Blomkamp presents an interesting premise for the future, one that is familiar to us in this day of 99 per cent versus one percent, looming ecological disaster, and polarizing inequality. However, what makes Elysium a mediocre movie instead of a great movie is that it lets these issues dictate how he uses his amazing cast.
Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star in this film, along with co-stars Sharlto Copley and Alice Braga. The cast chemistry is good and Damon does well in his surly, tough, working-class role. It’s always a treat to see Foster on screen and it’s a sweeter indulgence when she plays a baddie. The performance by the other cast members is also well done. Copley plays a psychotic mercenary-agent character, carrying out Foster’s will at the push of a button. Braga plays a mother desperate to save her critically ill child. The issue with the film is definitely not with the cast–rather it is with how Blomkamp used them.
In the late 22nd century, rampant pollution has literally turned Earth into a hellhole. So much of one that the super-rich packed their bags and said adios, creating a space station habitat called Elysium and leaving the rest of humanity to live on an overcrowded and polluted world.
Here, the super-rich have superior medical technology that allows them to live life without aging. Keeping them safe are fascist-esque “robocops” that carry out their bidding and keep the population in line. Elysium’s psychotic defence secretary Delacourt (Foster) attacks any refugee’s attempting to come to Elysium. On Earth, Max (Damon), a car-thief turned industrial worker yearns to go reconnect with an old flame (Braga) and dreams of going to Elysium. Yet a series of events find Max thrust into power politics that he could never imagine, and plays a deadly game of cat and mouse with a deadly Elysium agent (Copley).
The problem with Elysium is not its premise or its depiction of the future. Indeed, the gritty dystopian look of an over polluted, overcooked Earth on the one hand, and space ships with green pastures, with wine, caviar and magic tables that make diseases go away on the other will resonate with politically conscious individuals. The world and universe of Elysium is interesting. The movie has great action scenes and great CGI as well. The issues that Blomkamp brings up are ones certainly worthy of discussion.
The problem is that Blomkamp does not use his cast to their full potential and it largely defeats the movie. In his attempt to make clear his political message he paints the characters with too broad of brushes.
Foster and Copley’s characters are automatic psychopaths, there is no other attempt to explore these characters. It could be argued that villains in such a movie don’t need to be explored; they’re just there so the good guys can blow shit up and save the day. But come on, Jodie Foster is in his cast for crying out loud. If anyone can play a variety of complex characters—it’s her! Same with Damon; give him a little variety too. We get it, he’s in the underclass, but that doesn’t make him a saint. Nobody on the Elysium space station is portrayed sympathetically, while everyone on Earth is saintly just because they were born there. If this was an action movie with an action cast, there wouldn’t be much complaining.
Blomkamp had a great cast to explore great issues with and didn’t. Elysium is worth a view, but it’s a movie you’ll quickly forget.