Get out your robots and cyber exosleketons, we're reviewing Elysium!
It's the future, and all the rich white people live on Elysium while all the poor brown people live on Earth. When reformed car thief Max(Matt Damon) gets an extra dose of radiation, he'll have to take a dirty job to buy a ticket to get himself to Elysium to get a cure!
I like what the movie is trying to say, but it slowly goes from being a metaphor about our broken system to just being a generic action movie.
The first twenty minutes or so are exactly what I signed up to see. The future is now a place where all the poor people(primarily hispanic) work in the grimy dirty dregs of Earth, making barely any pay, building the same robots that are used to keep them oppressed. Robots are the new government workers. They're programmed to randomly stop and frisk citizens, they are DMV and case workers and of course the police. And this is great because it's pretty much exactly what we have now; government workers who act primarily as cogs to keep the machine running with little emotion or caring. Matt Damon gets stopped and checked and then gets time added to his parole and a broken arm for nothing. New York City has a gross "stop and frisk" law now that used primarily to discriminate against minorities and the poor.
The prison system is a joke, minimum wage workers can barely get by with little hope of ever getting out of debt, and only the rich have access to the best medical treatment. The rich and powerful use the system to keep the poor from ever attaining even the slightest of amenities all while in constant fear that the dirty poor are "coming to take their stuff". Am I talking about Elysium or real life?
Welcome to the future.
That's all fantastic, but it eventually devolves into an action movie in which the White Dude has to save the Damsel and the World Wide World from the Crazy Evil Oppressive People. It tries to have a message, and I feel like if it was a movie with a smaller budget like District 9 was, maybe they would have nailed it, but here it's too much of a big budget mainstream action movie. Maybe it was too big to take the risks they wanted.
Not to say Matt Damon is bad in his part. You really get the sense that he's a hardened criminal trying to do right, and I'm glad he's back to Ripped Matt Damon instead of Flabby Matt Damon. But it would have had so much more of an effect if the main protagonist was an unknown person of color. Maybe even a woman for once! And I feel as though, like District 9, the main protagonist started off selfish, but eventually learned to care about more important things going on around him. But unlike District 9, I don't see where Max makes that turn. He cares only about getting his radiation cured(so much so that he tells Frey's daughter straight up he can't help her) but then all of a sudden he decides he wants to help her and everyone on Earth, and I don't see where he made that decision.
And oh yeah, Matt Damon's love interest Frey(Alice Braga) is only there so her and her daughter can be Damsels in Distress. It's annoying that a movie that's trying to be this progressive is falling on such a tired trope. I feel like I've been talking about the Damsel in Distress plot a lot. That's probably because including this, 8 of the 10 last movies I saw had a Damsel In Distress plot(thanks Wonder Woman and Fruitvale Station!) If you are tired of me talking about it, well, I'm tired of writing about it. Also there's some violence against women which gives me a frowny face.
Jodie Foster has a weird accent and she talks almost as if she's dubbed over. I wanted to see why her character is the way she is, but she's only seen as an evil rich person. That annoys me because your message suffers if your realistic good guys are going up against cartoon bad guys. And that's what her and Kruger(played amazingly by Sharlto Copley) are. They have a cliche cartoon plot rather than a more realistic and sinister plan. We don't really see the reasoning behind the rich people and why they can't heal everyone even though they clearly have the resources to. I'm not saying it's an even argument or that people like this don't exist, it's completely realistic to me that rich people would want to keep the poor down and keep all the fancy medical treatments for themselves, but show them as real people. Show me their reasoning and show me why they're wrong.
Even though the movie gradually loses its message and devolves into a generic action movie, it's still a super fun action movie. I love the tech and environment they provide. Robots shoot and look like they have real weight, people battle in exo-suits, space ships fly around, and people get exploded a whole lot. Like a ton of people exploding. I feel like someone saw how much everyone liked that one guy exploding in District 9 and said, "Let's have ALL the people explode!" Which I really have no problem with. All the guns and fighting were cool and the way they shot all the action scenes was very well done. There are some slow-motion explosions mixed with super fast fighting and it's all a blast. Also, I like how the rich people have sleek looking holographic interfaces on their computers, while the poor hackers have dos prompts. Haves and have-nots indeed!
The one thing that really bothered me was the super generic score. It. Is. Atrocious. It's so generic and clearly copy-pasted from movies like Inception and The Dark Knight that it's noticeable and takes me out of the experience. This movie would have been so much better if someone had taken time to make really unique, futuristic sounding score like Tron Legacy, Dredd, or even Oblivion, instead of a bunch of generic BWAAAMs. It's disappointing. The pacing of the movie is also too fast and jittery. Things happen and it's too quick.
Also minor sci-fi annoyance: I wish the world of Elysium was more fleshed out. For one thing we only see Los Angeles and it's only filled with Hispanics? Is that the only place left on Earth? You'd think if Elysium is the only space station they'd be constantly bombarded with ships from all across the globe. And on Elysium, with everyone white, how do all the brown people think they're going to live? It's kind of really obvious they don't fit in, especially when all the white people run away scared. And what kind of jobs to the rich people do to get so rich? Are they all trust-fund babies? And why is there no major media? No TV or internet or anything? I find it highly suspect when there is no art or entertainment. What do these fancy "cure anything" devices run on or use to repair tissue? You'd think if they could cure all diseases they would. It would have been neater if they HAD cured all the known diseases we have now, but new ones pop up that you'd only get from living on Earth and you'd constantly get them from living in the environment, making the need for constant medical care a much more serious and harder issue.
THE GOOD: Matt Damon is badass, good metaphor for what lower class goes through, cool future tech, great fight scenes, people explode a lot, interesting world.
THE BAD: Message gets watered down into generic action movie, Damsel in Distress, Matt Damon is the chosen white person to save all brown people, score is terrible, pacing is off.
THE VERDICT: $$$$ It's still a fun sci-fi movie with a good heart worth seeing, it's just not up to par with District 9. It's not as smart as it wants you to think it is.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Pacific Rim, District 9, Gattaca, In Time,
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Max's boss(the only other white guy other than Max apparently) is a constant dick to him, telling him that if he won't do the job he'll get someone who can. But when his boss comes down from Elysium, John Carlyle(played by William Fichtner), he's told by Carlyle, "don't breathe on me." It's pretty great, but we also don't get to see how the Forman lives, who must be living middle class. We don't get to see anyone middle class actually, just the really rich and the really poor.