Finally, finally saw Elysium. Glad I did.
As scifi movies go, I’m honestly fairly pleased with it. Elysium was directed by Neill Blomkamp, the guy who brought us District 9, and it’s easy to see the thematic similarities between the two: haves and have-nots, segregation, abuse of power. District 9 was very much about Apartheid, however. Elysium goes more toward the increasing distance between rich and poor, down to the distribution of healthcare. And of course, there are quite a few very pointed scenes regarding illegal immigration, well-suited perhaps because those movie was set in Los Angeles rather than Johannesburg.
One thing I found very cool about Elysium was just how much Spanish was used in the movie (note: though I have no idea if the Spanish was any good) and how natural it felt. Blomkamp imagined a future Los Angeles with a heavily Hispanic population, which I think made it feel more realistic. (Also made the talk on the space habitat about illegal immigrants and the threat they pose all the more pointed.) Of the major supporting characters, two were played by Brazilian actors and one by a Mexican actor.
Elysium is decent scifi. It asks “what if” and then explores how humanity might change around that development, embracing it or fighting it or using it. I thought the space habitat for which the movie is named was pretty interesting, particularly that it was set up so the atmosphere was kept inside entirely by the rotational force that created the artificial gravity. (Kind of like a miniature Ring World.) Though occasionally some of the scifi elements were also plainly set up to force the plot in a particular direction to stay on message, which is not so good.
To be honest, I think the only reason I’m at all disappointed in Elysium is because I’ve watched and loved District 9 and can’t help but compare the two. That doesn’t seem too unfair with their undeniable similarities. While Elysium benefits from a much larger budget than District 9 (and Matt Damon was more than satisfactorily Matt Damon in it)–the special effects are excellent and I didn’t feel they were overdone–it’s also much more heavy-handed and much clumsier in the way it deals with issues. It’s much more of a big budget scifi/action movie than District 9. Which was honestly to its detriment, I think.
The main reason I say this is because Elysium had an excellent villain in Jodie Foster. Even if she couldn’t seem to figure out what her accent was supposed to be. She did the achetypal crazy general (or in her case, Secretary of Defense) who believes she should be in charge and is planning a coup and oh yeah blowing up all those illegal immigrants who foolishly think they deserve a crack at awesome health care. (Silly illegal immigrants, not dying is for rich people.)
Now, I figured that was the setup for the showdown between her and Matt Damon as Max, because if nothing else she’d have robots of all sorts on her side, and it wouldn’t be a matter of winning by physically overpowering her. There could be a cool standoff there.
Instead, she had what amounted to an attack dog named Kruger, and he stabbed her in the neck and killed her, then went on to fight Max. To me that felt like the movie going from having a villain to having a monster, considering the way Kruger was played. And then it meant winning was simply achieved with a big action-y fight. And this sudden shift in end-game villains was all the more ridiculous because Kruger had literally just had his entire face blown off by a freaking grenade but somehow it was okay because his brain was uninjured what so the magical Elysium technology could heal him.
Yeah, that annoyed me. It felt like replacing a movie ending that would have been more true to the story and genre with something cookie cutter action movie because obviously there hadn’t been enough punching and shooting already.