The story is about Earth approximately 140 years in the future. Dirty, overcrowded, disease-ridden, and resource deficient, the planet has become a wastebasket for the have-nots of humanity. Elysium, a paragon of human engineering and sophistication, floats above the planet in pristine effulgence, homing only the most affluent and powerful people. The plot is simple: groups and individuals left behind to scratch out their lives in what meager options remain on Earth want, not access to Elysium and all its comforts, but really just access to the space station’s atomic-reorganization technology that has the capacity to heal apparently any human disease—from cancer to having your entire face blown off. Pretty nifty. And no anesthetic required.
Warning: Spoilers abound.
Drop in Everyman, Max de Costa, played by Matt Damon. Max simply wants to live a law-abiding life, having learned from the crimes of his youth that being free, even in the unforgiving detritus that is 22nd-century Los Angeles, is still much better than whatever such a disrupted and disorganized society would have for a jail. But Max has a shitty day when the local robocops hassle him for no good reason, and to add insult to injury, not even Max’s parole officer is human, all being merely droid facsimiles of a justice system (though, the movie never explains why they’d have robots doing these positions if there is such an overabundance of population. Viewers have to let this pass because there’s, well, a LOT of important details the movie never explains).
Thanks to the easy replacement of human laborers, Max’s boss at the robot factory (the requisite evil corporation), in a throwback to 1800s anti-union industrialization, threatens Max with a loss of his job if he refuses to risk his life in a radiation chamber to fix a mechanical fault. Boom, zap, Max is cooked, and sent home by the company doctor (also a robot) with a “thanks for your service, you’ll be dead in five days” announcement and a bottle of pills.
But even radiation sickness is no big thang for the magical Med-Pods on Elysium, and desperation forces Max to seek out the one person he knows who can get him there. And here’s the fun part. The King Hoodlum’s name is Spider, which the Gibson-geek in me hopes is a nod by Blomkamp to Robert Blongo’s and William Gibson’s adaptation of Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic. If you saw the movie, you know the venerable Henry Rollins plays a doctor named Spider who is trying to help save the human race from a mysterious plague. In another couple of nods to Mnemonic, Blomkamp’s movie relies on the use of data-storage devices that can be implanted in the human brain, and the cast includes a crazy, streetwalking freelance soldier (played brilliantly by the amazing Sharlto Copley) who has a striking resemblance and shares the psychotic personality of Mnemonic’s murderous Street Preacher. Which takes us back to Elysium.
In order to buy his trip to Elysium and be saved from radiation poisoning, Max makes a deal with Spider to retrieve a mass of data from the Big Corporate Kingpin (which will, of course, be stored in Max’s brain implant) in exchange for the ride. Naturally, things go bad and adventures and explosions ensue.
I’d like to say Elysium was visionary and unique, but giant gaping plot holes, an incredible lack of worldbuilding details or realism, and a total failure to keep major threads of the storyline both consistent and relevant (what was the point of writing in Max’s childhood sweetheart, anyway?) really made the film suffer. If not for the over-the-top antics of Kruger, Sharlto Copley’s character, and the subtle and heavy-hitting performance by Jodi Foster, the movie would have been less than ho-hum. Entertaining, but largely irritating. If you really want to be entertained, opt instead for Pacific Rim or the truly original District 9.
Bechdel Test status: fail.