Local movie review: ‘Elysium’ a gritty, brutal tale with no middle ground

By Evan Bevins

The Marietta Times


Despite its gritty realism, brutal violence and real-world allegories, “Elysium” is a fairy tale, with a clearly delineated battle between good and evil.

Writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to his terrific “District 9” stars Matt Damon (“Promised Land”) as Max, a former thief trying to walk the straight and narrow in a 22nd century Los Angeles, where advanced technology has done nothing but exacerbate over-population, pollution and greed. In as wide a 99 percent-1 percent gulf as you’ll ever see, the wealthiest have fled the planet for Elysium, a space station where they can live in luxury and have access to medical treatment that can cure illnesses and injuries that are death sentences back on Earth in a matter of seconds.

The underworld runs a booming business trying to sneak the Earth-bound onto Elysium, which is defended ruthlessly by Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster, “Panic Room”).

It’s the way Blomkamp approaches the obvious illegal immigration metaphor that steers Elysium into fairy tale status. Although Delacourt has a token line explaining her ferocity in protecting the station, there’s no shades of gray when it comes to the moral of this story – the people on Elysium are clearly in the wrong, denying lifesaving medical technology to and the basic humanity of those left below on Earth.

That doesn’t make “Elysium” a bad movie; in fact, it’s very suspenseful, emotional and gripping. But it’s not a movie that wrestles with an issue, any more than “The Wizard of Oz” tries to show you things from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view (that came later).

Max’s journey to Elysium is prompted by an industrial accident shown early in the previews. With only days to live, he’s outfitted with an exoskeleton to boost his strength to allow him to lead a crew on a high-stakes theft in exchange for a ticket on the next illegal flight to the station, courtesy of a techie crime boss named Spider.

Although he seems at times like a cartoon charicature, Spider (Wagner Moura, “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within”) interestingly winds up fitting the hero role better than Max. Faced with his impending death, Max is willing to do anything to live and shows little concern about how his situation could help others, even the terminally ill daughter of his childhood love (Alice Braga, “I Am Legend”). But circumstances conspire, a bit unbelievably at times, to put more than just Max’s own life in his hands.

There’s no doubt about who the villains are, with Sharlto Copley (“The A-Team”)taking a pitch-black turn as the sadistic Kruger. It’s not as memorable as his brilliant performance in “District 9,” but he keeps the role from being cliche.

The future setting is not the antiseptic environment you see in some sci-fi movies. Outside Elysium’s med-bays, the technology, no matter how far-fetched, seems rooted in reality, and that exoskeleton Max is sporting is painful just to watch.

The violence in “Elysium” is ugly and grotesque, which makes parts of it unpleasant to watch. However, that also means it eschews the high-body-count-low-consequences model many PG-13 films employ.

“Elysium” is a strong sequel-in-spirit to “District 9,” but somehow lacks the resonance once the credits roll. Still, it’s an excellent sci-fi/action film that makes you care about the people involved – at least the good guys.