Movie Review: Elysium

By Matthew Huntley

August 14, 2013

Mad Max? Is that you?

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Max eventually finds himself caught up in this scheme when has no choice but to sneak onto Elysium for medical treatment. He reaches out to a smuggler named Spider (Wagner Moura) and says he’ll do anything to save his life. Spider takes him up on the offer and asks Max to hijack Carlyle and sync their brains so Max would possess Carlyle’s sensitive corporate knowledge, which, in turn, would grant Spider a lot of power and profits. To aid him in the mission, Max is souped up with an exo-skeleton and soon becomes the sole possessor of Carlyle’s reboot program, making him a very precious commodity to both sides.

The parallels between the social, corporate and governmental issues in Elysium and the real world - which stem from controversial topics like national security, health care, unfair wages, illegal business deals, immigration, etc. - are obvious, and Blomkamp’s screenplay doesn’t do much other than let us know they exist and they’re bad. Instead of really delving into them and offering solutions or greater insight, the movie simply uses these subjects as a backdrop for a moderately kinetic sci-fi adventure that once again boils down to a routine race against time and a battle of good vs. evil. The problem is we’ve seen this kind of sci-fi action stuff before, and even though it’s competently executed, it’s ultimately nothing special. The question I have is, if you’re going to bring so many contentious matters to the table, why not go the distance and actually discuss them instead of settling with more shootouts and special effects sequences?


On top of that, the movie doesn’t go out of its way to develop its characters beyond their archetypal roles. Max is clearly the flawed but noble hero; Frey is the damsel who must eventually be rescued (she’s even provided emotional baggage in the form of a daughter who’s been diagnosed with leukemia); and Delacourt, Carlyle and Kruger are your standard villains, with Delacourt representing the corrupt government official, Carlyle the evil corporate executive, and Kruger the trigger-happy, violent military man. Blomkamp gives them no chance to obtain greater depth and become more interesting.

We know what Elysium is going for, but in the end, it falls short. As a social commentary, it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. It would rather function as sensational and somewhat superficial entertainment than hone in on the problems it suggests are tearing our world apart. But while it’s one thing to state what the problems are; it’s a whole other to offer solutions. I applaud the movie’s effort in at least carrying out the first part, but that wasn’t enough. Yes, it probably would be a lot harder to make a blockbuster movie that really attempts to talk about and solve the world’s problems, but just think about how much bigger and relevant a payoff it would have if it succeeded.

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