Review: Elysium

I enjoyed District 9 back in the day, so when I heard the director was putting out another sci-fi movie, titled Elysium, I was immediately interested. Of course, my life was a mess at the time, so it’s taken me until now to actually watch it.

Matt Damon as Max Da Costa in ElysiumSet 150 years in the future, Elysium depicts a dystopic planet Earth utterly ruined by disease, overpopulation, and pollution. The wealthy have escaped to a vast, paradisaical space station, Elyisum, where their every need is fulfilled, and any sickness can be instantly cured.

The story follows Max Da Costa, played by Matt Damon, an ex-con factory worker. He receives a lethal dose of radiation in an industrial accident and is given five days to live. Meanwhile, his childhood friend, Frey, struggles to support her daughter, who is dying from leukemia.

I think you can see where this is going.

I was expecting Elysium to be an intellectual, thought-provoking piece of science fiction. As it turns out, not so much. The story is fairly straightforward, and the messaging is quite ham-fisted.

In particular, the ruling class of Elysium are so cartoonishly heartless and evil it’s difficult to take seriously sometimes. Even my anti-corporate, pro-equality, angry leftist self found this to be a case of laying it on a bit thick. It’s certainly not the chillingly believable dystopia of Continuum.

Thankfully, though, Elysium does have other strengths to call upon.

The titular space station in ElysiumElysium didn’t turn out to be a think-piece so much as a fairly standard sci-fi action adventure, but in that, it does its job well. The action sequences are brutal, visceral, and exciting. The special effects are spectacular, and the art design is strong. It manages to both an incredibly ugly movie and an absolute feast for the eyes at the same time.

The main characters are a little thin, but they’re good enough to keep you engaged. Similarly, the acting is adequate but not award-worthy. I was able to forget I was watching Matt Damon after a while, at least.

Actually, the best acting probably comes from the main antagonist, played by Sharlto Copley, who is so skin-crawlingly vile from beginning to end that I spent half the movie visualizing gruesome and painful fates for him.

Elysium has a pretty strong emotional punch, and while the journey to get there is a little inconsistent, its ending is one of the more powerful and satisfying that I’ve seen in recent memory.

So in the end Elysium is a lot like District 9. It, too, was a bit rough around the edges, but ultimately it was a good movie, and the same is true of Elysium. Not a masterpiece, but worth your time.

Overall rating: 7.3/10

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3 thoughts on “Review: Elysium

  1. It was all right, but a bit too unrealistic for me to suspend disbelief. Every house on the station has this magic heal-box, and they’ve got tons of spare heal-boxes on ships just sitting there doing nothing and they can’t/won’t build more to use down on earth?

    Too much message, not enough story — that was my complaint.

    On the other hand, I did enjoy the action sequences, so I don’t feel like it’s 2 hours of my life I want back either, so it had that going for it….

  2. I agree with most of your comments, and would probably give it 7/10 myself. And I do rather enjoy watching “light” sci-fi films, those are the ones I keep coming back to. District 9 was awesome, but once seen, it’s not a movie I re-watch dozens of times – but I keep coming back to, for example, Aliens, although it is all brawn and no brain.

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