Elysium

The Earth is a mess in the late 21st century.  It’s severely overpopulated, polluted and nearly out of natural resources.  All the wealthiest people have pooled their resources together to leave the planet to the poor and sick and live a life of luxury on a massive space station called Elysium.  Built by the Armadyne Corporation, Elysium is overseen by a government elected by the residents.  The person in charge of maintaining station security is Secretary Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster).  Delacourt doesn’t mind blowing up ships filled with people who are trying to get aboard Elysium to gain access to their Med Pods; devices that diagnose and cure any illness.  Her tactics rub Elysium President Patel (Faran Tahir) the wrong way and he threatens to fire her and orders her psychotic mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) terminated.  Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) hasn’t had many chances in life.  He was raised in an orphanage and had only one real friend, Frey (Alice Braga).  Once he was on his own, Max got involved with a car theft ring which landed him in jail and is now out on parole.  Max is trying to turn his life around and he works in an Armadyne factory that builds security robots for use on Earth and Elysium.  Frey has become a nurse and has a daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) who is near death due to leukemia.  An accident at the factory bathes Max in a lethal dose of radiation and a medical robot tells him he has five days to live.  Max knows he can be cured on Elysium and goes to see his former partner in crime Spider (Wagner Moura).  Spider ran the car theft ring and now runs illegal shuttles to Elysium.  Max begs Spider to get him to the space station and promises to work for him to pay off his debt after he’s cured.  Spider makes a counter offer.  He has a plan to steal information out of the brain of a resident of Elysium so his shuttles have a better chance of making it through the station’s defenses.  Max agrees to help with the theft if they target John Carlyle (William Fichtner), the manager of the factory where Max worked and was irradiated.  To assist in keeping Max alive, Spider has his medical staff fit Max with an exoskeleton to enhance his strength and speed plus it implants a hard drive in his brain as a place to store the Elysium information.  Delacourt has promised Carlyle the defense contract for Elysium for the next 200 years if he can write a program that will reboot the station’s systems and overthrow the current government, putting her in charge.  Carlyle agrees and implants the program in his brain but on the way to Elysium, Max and Spider’s men attack his shuttle.  Carlyle is killed by a stray bullet during a firefight between Spider’s men and Kruger’s mercenaries who were called in by Delacourt.  Before he died, Carlyle’s brain was hacked and the information was downloaded in to Max’s head.  Delacourt orders Kruger to find Max and bring him to Elysium so she can get the information and put her plan in motion.  She doesn’t care what Kruger has to do or who he has to kill to get the job done.
 
Director Neill Blomkamp has a theme that runs through both of his wide-release films, 2009’s “District 9” and “Elysium.”  The oppressed will rise up against those who try to hold them down.  In “District 9” the oppressed were a group of insect-like aliens forced to live in squalid slums that were more akin to concentration camps while shady government agencies tried to figure out how to access their alien technology, specifically their weapons.  “Elysium” replaces the aliens with the poor who are trying to access medical care while shady politicians fight among themselves for power.  The dichotomy between those left on Earth and those in orbit is visually stunning.  Massive slums with seemingly endless garbage dumps being farmed for anything of value is immediately contrasted with the beautifully manicured lawns and exquisite homes with pools and those miraculous Med Pods on Elysium.  The space station can easily be seen from the ground and is a constant reminder to those left on the planet that they are the have-nots.  This relentless drumbeat of the 99% versus the 1% gives “Elysium” its dramatic tension but it also feels heavy handed.  No one who lives on Elysium is a sympathetic character.  Delacourt is a ruthless bureaucrat who cares nothing for those left on Earth.  President Patel is in a power struggle with Delacourt and only objects to her methods of keeping outsiders off the station because of bad publicity.  John Carlyle has an open disdain for his employees and anyone who lives on the planet to the point where he orders a factory foreman to not breathe on him.  This suggests everyone on Elysium has the same feelings about those left on Earth.  I find it difficult to believe everyone’s opinions are so homogeneous on a space station that has a population that appears to be in the thousands.
 
While the story is heavy handed, the action is fast and furious.  The various fight scenes, whether they involve weapons or hand-to-hand combat, pay off in violence and realism.  Despite the presence of advanced weaponry and a couple of exoskeletons, all the action feels brutal and plausible.  My only complaint is some of the fight scenes are filmed in extreme close-up or with effects added to give the impression of hyper-speed or increased vibration.  It makes it difficult at times to tell exactly what’s going on.  While I appreciate the effort to try something new in filming some of the battles, I’d rather be completely clear about what’s going on between the combatants.  
 
The film wastes little time in putting all the pieces in motion.  The story is kicked off quickly with only a small amount of time spent on flashbacks to Max and Frey’s early life and just a couple of title cards to explain what has happened to Earth and why Elysium was built.  I appreciate a movie that gets to the meat of the plot without feeling the need to waste a huge amount of time giving all the characters enormous amounts of backstory.  “Elysium” efficiently gives us all the information we need without burying the audience in minutiae.  Some of these superhero movies could take a lesson or two from this film.
 
The special effects are both gorgeous and gritty.  The look of the space station is spectacular.  It is lush and beautiful and looks like the perfect place to live.  I want to go to Elysium.  As shuttles fly over the curved landscape, we see the green lawns and blue pools of the homes below.  Wilderness areas are packed with trees and vines of various types.  Elysium is filled with natural wonders in an unnatural setting.  Where there seems to be only greyness and filth is the Earth that’s shown in the film.  It is a dirty, dingy, over-crowded pit of despair.  The cityscapes are depressing with thrown together shacks and high-rise building that don’t appear to have seen any maintenance in decades.  The previously mentioned garbage dump that seems to run for acres and acres only adds to the depressing nature of life on Earth.  All of these landscapes, both beautiful and barren, are created largely with computer generated imagery; but no matter how hard you look, you’ll be hard pressed to find any visuals that look overtly CG.  The special effects team has done a masterful job.
 
The acting in “Elysium” is also very good.  Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and the rest of the cast inhabit their characters completely.  You’ll believe Damon is a factory worker just trying to live a quiet life when circumstances turn him into a reluctant hero.  Foster plays Delacourt like she has been studying the most ambitious and soulless CEO’s and politicians for years.  Sharlto Copley will make you hate him as you see his sick and depraved character enjoying hurting and threatening anyone who stands in the way of his mission, including women and children.
 
“Elysium” is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.  We see at least two people blow to bits with blood and viscera flying everywhere.  We see another person’s face blown off by a grenade as it happens.  Another person is graphically stabbed in the neck.  There are numerous stabbings, slashings and shootings with large amounts of blood on display.  The scene where Damon is fitted with his exoskeleton is rather graphic with the added joy of seeing bolts screwed into his body with power drills.  Foul language is fairly common.
 
Director, producer and writer Neill Blomkamp pours on the rich vs. the poor plot pretty thick.  But, what “Elysium” lacks in subtlety it makes up for in thrilling visuals and action.  While the film’s story is somewhat simplistic it is told very effectively and with a great deal of style.  It is one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in a long time that not only impresses visually but with some substance as well.
 
“Elysium” gets five guitars.
 
There’s a wide variety of films once again this week ranging from historical drama to adapted graphic novel.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
 
JOBS—JOBS details the major moments and defining characters that influenced Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on a daily basis from 1971 through 2001.
 
Kick-Ass 2—Dave, aka Kick-Ass, and Mindy, aka Hit Girl, are trying to live as normal teenagers and briefly form a crime fighting team. After Mindy is busted and forced to retire as Hit Girl, Dave joins a group of amateur superheroes led by Col. Stars and Stripes, a reformed mobster.
 
Lee Daniels’ The Butler—Tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man’s life and family.
 
Paranoia—Adam is a charming, blue collar guy trying to get ahead in his entry-level job at Wyatt Telecom. But after one costly and illegal mistake, Adam is confronted by ruthless CEO Nicholas Wyatt. He won’t turn Adam in under one condition: Adam must agree to infiltrate the competition as a corporate spy.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews the film of his choice currently in theatres or On Demand.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Questions or comments are welcome at stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.