In the year 2154 the planet is overpopulated and in terrible condition, those who dwell on the planet live in mostly in poverty whilst those privileged and lucky enough live on Elysium. Elysium is a utopia in which only the rich live, they hold strict immigration laws that deny access to the utopia to those who belong on Earth. After a health and safety disaster Max di Costa (Matt Damon) is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation that only gives him five days to live. His only means of survival is a Med-Bay, but these are only found on Elysium and access to Elysium isn’t easy.
Max’s means of getting to Elysium is via Spider (Wagner Moura) who will only grant Max a passage if Max helps him steal a piece of top secret and vital information from the mind of John Carlyle (William Fichtner). Finding this vital information will allow every citizen on Earth to become a citizen of Elysium and gain access to the quality of life those already on Elysium have. Not only this, however, is in mind of Carlyle as it also contains codes that will rewrite Elysium’s systems and grant Defence Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) the presidency.
Neill Blomkamp’s last film District 9 smartly used the arrival of aliens as a metaphor for racism; it was a superb film and the treatment of the aliens was strongly reminiscent of the disgraceful treatment black people received from a number of white South Africans during the era of Apartheid. Blomkamp’s latest film is equally political as it discusses a number of political issues such as overpopulation, immigration, exploitation of the workforce and class and racial issues. Elysium’s premise and politically relevant themes gave the film so much potential, but it is such a shame that the execution is not up to scratch.
The major problem is the execution of the class and racial issues theme. The Earth is mainly populated by black people and Latinos, whilst the tranquil environment of Elysium is populated by over privileged white people. Not a single white person (with the exception of Matt Damon’s Max di Costa and a few others) resides on Earth, is this film suggesting that black people and Latinos would not create a fully functioning society on Earth? Also furthermore is this film also suggesting that white people do not care for their fellow human beings? It is clear that each individual on Elysium cares very little for those on Earth and are willing to shot any oncoming ships as though the souls on board are worth nothing.
Certainly the 1% who possess the majority of money in a capitalist society seem to care very little for those struggling to get by on benefits and minimum wage, but the major issue here is that if there is not a single white person on Earth (in LA at least), it just makes it seem that they are all unsympathetic racists. Furthermore, the film could also be construed additionally offensive as it seemed that the only white guy on the planet was the only one who could lead those on Earth into claiming Elysium from the over privileged (like how a white person saved the Navi in Avatar and the Native Indians in Dances with Wolves). Additionally, the films handles its themes in such an unsubtle, heavy-handed and simplistic manner that any discussion of the themes becomes rather uninteresting and eventually pushed aside as the film drags on. The case of Western governments exploiting the poorer governments is a strong one, but that theme is indiscreetly discussed. It is not the theme itself that is the issue, but the way it is discussed.
As I have already mentioned any discussion of themes take second place to the action as the film drags on. More worrying perhaps is the fact that the story lacks tension and fails to stimulate any interest. The action scenes themselves are clumsily shot and composer Trent Opaloch seemed to have graduated from the Hans Zimmer School of film scores as his score consisted of random loud noises that are often attributed to the works of Hans Zimmer in Batman, Inception and most recently Man of Steel. Matt Damon is fine is the main role, but Jodie Foster gives the worst performance of her career. Foster’s performance lacks any authority because of her adoption of a ludicrous accent.
It is true that director Neill Blomkamp said the film is about the third world trying to break into the first world, the theme itself is poorly discussed and lacks subtlety. The story is starved of dramatic tension, Foster’s performance is truly atrocious and the execution of the film’s story and themes is dire.