Overview: Matt Damon leads a crusade to the utopian Elysium in order to save himself and share the wealth with those left behind on a polluted, overpopulated Earth. TriStar Pictures; 2013; Rated R; 109 minutes.
Identity Crisis: Elysium contains elements that make most movies work. It has a clear plot, star quality, decent action scenes, and a love story. Unfortunately, cramming in all of these elements is also what prevents this movie from being special. I can picture the brainstorming for this movie going something like this: “Hey, let’s have Matt Damon be the hero and battle against ‘the man,’ blow a bunch of stuff up, and bring a pretty girl along. It’ll be just like a sci-fi Bourne Identity.” Director Neill Blomkamp tried to do it all with his first big budget blockbuster after the huge critical success of District 9, a much more focused effort.
Too Much or Not Enough: Elysium manages to simultaneously leave the impression that too many elements have been inserted, yet something is also missing. None of the characters or their motivations are explored to a satisfying or intriguing degree. We are provided with plenty of ruthless villains, with no insight into who they are. We know nothing about the residents of Elysium other than their hunger for power and attachment to wealth. The only clear cut message in the movie is its political stance. The evil rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Healthcare for all!
No Love Lost: On the other hand, we’re overdosed with reasons we should root for our hero, which only leaves us more confused as to who he really is. One of Elysium’s biggest mistakes is its attempt to add emotion where it doesn’t belong. The love story between Max (Matt Damon) and his childhood crush feels forced and cold. Is Max just a blue collar guy in a super suit trying to save his own ass? Or is he a guy in love who is also trying to give the rest of the people in Earth a fighting chance? By giving him both of these identities, the movie manages to remove all emotional connection we have with the character. I didn’t even flinch when Max sacrificed himself so that everyone could become a citizen of Elysium. Shouldn’t that be a touching moment?
Final Thoughts: Elysium had the potential to be a great sci-fi flick. Some of the action scenes are pretty badass, and the basic storyline works. With more concise, complete character development and less concentration on shamelessly appealing to the emotions and political alignment, it could have succeeded in being much more memorable.