David Marr once wrote ‘this golden country, so prosperous, so intelligent, so safe and orderly, is afraid of refugees arriving in fishing boats.’ Published in 2011 under the title Panic it concerns Australian fear and is now more relevant than ever considering the upcoming election and the determination to ‘stop the boats.’ Neill Blomkamp’s latest Elysium is birthed within a similar frame of mind: the ruling WASP class watch over us (literally, from a space station up beyond the clouds) and any attempt to seek refugee status will result in your possible death. At least, that’s what was suggested when the trailer was released a couple of months ago, offering Matt Damon as the man to lead the leftist revolution, Max. (Surely this was a studio decision? I have a hard time believing Blomkamp to be stupid enough to cast a Caucasian man as a revolutionist in this context.) The resulting film isn’t so much a product of a false trailer—vice versa, many horrible trailers have hidden otherwise great films—rather it is just that, an incredibly blasé film that loses interest in its own subjects.
The first twenty minutes are excellent. We’re given a glimpse inside the utopia that is Elysium, a space station where any diseases can be cured with a five-second body scan that resembles a futuristic tanning bed. Elysium is home to what can be guessed as a few thousand people, all looking like they’re about to head out to a putting green. Back on Earth however is the reason they’ve escaped: the entire planet has become a third-world country. Set in America (of course!), it resembles a deteriorated Mega City 1, as seen in Dredd.
From here the film drops off completely. Our working class hero Max is hurt at work (WorkChoices where are you?) and the resulting injury forces him to do everything possible to get to Elysium to heal himself. He’s not concerned with a revolution, only the men that will get him to Elysium are. They use him and his criminal past to hijack an important code that will enable them to get to the space station without being shot down.
There’s no revolution, there’s no uprising and there’s no overthrowing of justice. Elysium is meant to be a 99% versus the 1% film and instead it’s just another sci-fi.
What makes it so? Without spoiling the rest of the film it quickly delves into a simple shoot ‘em up , quickly forgetting the story that was building in the beginning. It turns class warfare into a forgettable love story built around a promise made when Max was a child (to a girl he befriended, Frey, who is now working as a nurse) that we’re reminded of no less than three times over the course of the film despite it being clear as day in the first mention. The villain appears in the form of Shalto Copley as Kruger who dials in his performance through his beard, spouting ridiculous lines such as “Hey fucker I will fuck you up!” that render his screen time as inappropriately comical. Just as the idea behind the space station does not make sense—there is not enough room on that station for population growth, which would ultimately happen—the ending is also at a loss as there are not enough resources to achieve the end goal.
And what’s with the women? Seriously, there are two in the whole film that get the chance to talk and even then both aren’t much more than warm bodies. Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, a corrupt official that watches over the station. Alice Braga plays Frey, who strangely walks around in a pink nurses costume, in case you missed her being a woman.
The issue here isn’t that the trailer was misleading but the opening twenty minutes was. The Occupy movement is worthy of the big screen treatment and everything hinted at this being the answer. Instead we’re offered a b-grade sci-fi action movie that doesn’t pursue the very questions it asks in the beginning.
They’re ignored because such analysis gets in the way of all the action, dudes.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire