Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) lives on Earth in the year 2154. He is a factory worker and after being injured in a serious accident at work is given just 5 days to live. He realises his only chance is to make it to Elysium – a floating artificial man-made paradise in space where all the rich and important people now live. There he can be healed easily in one of the Med-Bays. However as fate would have it he does more than just make it to Elysium, he changes the world.
I was a bit disappointed with this film because the trailer made it look very good. The first thing that’s a bit sour is that despite the title all you get to see of the paradisiacal world of Elysium up close are the backs of a few houses and some white corridors. The rest of the film is set on a grimy derelict overpopulated Earth – a dilapidated future Earth that we have seen many times in other films. Then there is the story – there isn’t enough of a proper emotional element to the film. That’s not to say there isn’t an emotional backstory – Max is dying from his sickness and also rekindles a relationship with childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) and her sick daughter. It’s just you don’t feel much emotion from it. So what you get is mainly a lot of action, and none of it is spectacular or impressive enough to carry the film by itself. There is also the slightly too over-the-top bad guy of the piece, Kruger (Sharlto Copley). Here think of a South African great white hunter version of the already over-the-top bad sergeant in Avatar. This caricature of a bad guy becomes even more extreme when he is fitted with his own mechanical exo-skeleton to match the one Matt Damon had fitted earlier on in the film. This is purely so that they can face off in the finale on equal terms.
Then there is the slightly clumsy allegorical nature of the story. Which seems to be making a point about how all the rich people have access to health care and the poor people don’t. It also touches on immigration too. It seems too ridiculous at times – even if Elysium sent down just one Med-Bay to Earth they could cure thousands of people. But then you realise that’s exactly the point the director is trying to make about our world. We have drugs and medication in the West that could easily save thousands of lives in the developing world. It’s idealistic of course – in reality yes rich people look after themselves but even rich countries are unable to properly care for their own population and they already sent huge donations overseas. Still there is much that could be done and the film’s message is a virtuous one.
Matt Damon does a good job as the hero of the piece although he probably isn’t the most charismatic leading man. Alice Braga is believable as his beautiful doctor friend, and the robot guards are impressive, as is their ability to detect sarcasm – which unfortunately for Max results in a beating. It’s not a spectacular film or even one that particularly makes you think, and overall is just average but you do always want to see what happens next. Watch it at home, but don’t make the mistake of watching it at the cinema like I did. Disappointing. 5/10