Set roughly 140 years in the future, the film finds the Earth ravaged by pollution and overpopulation, resulting in the über-rich fleeing to the idyllic titular space station where the air is clean, the grass is green, technology has rendered disease nonexistent and the swarthy, unwashed masses – including factory worker Max (Matt Damon) – are considered cockroaches. Resigned to a life of comparative squalor, Max has long wished to experience the good life on Elysium and, after he’s accidentally exposed to a massive dose of deadly radiation, he decides to make it his mission to get there to heal himself. Adding to his motivation is a childhood friend (Alice Braga) and her ailing young daughter (Emma Tremblay), who likewise wish to tap into one of the elite’s healing pods and find solace from the literal Hell on Earth.
Thing is, Foster’s steely villain-of-unknown-geographical-origin will have none of it. Under her iron-fisted orders, “illegals” attempting to enter Elysium are zapped out of the sky by her covert, hugely violent and fully insane agent (Sharlto Copley). No ifs, ands or buts.
Thus launches the all-too-familiar class-struggle conflict at the root of this somewhat derivative offering that uses clichéd elements of every other dystopian-future movie ever made. The poor are dirty, the rich are clean; the poor are noble, the rich are assholes. Elysium feels a lot like a movie we’ve all seen before. And, visually, it looks like it takes place two doors down from the world of Blomkamp’s previous cinematic outing. I half-expected sad, enslaved aliens to pop up at any minute.
That said, Damon and Braga manage to create interesting, engaging characters amid the ho-hum story. Copley chews the scenery as the psychotic bounty hunter, and some of the effects (not the least of which is the rotating, outer-space world of the space station) are genuinely super-impressive.
But, as a whole, the film wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped it would be. The story – “let’s get to Elysium!” – seemed thin, and some of the more interesting characters, including Diego Luna’s good-hearted car thief and Wagner Mauro’s compelling criminal, are sort of ignored even though their stories seemed like they’d be terrific if given more exposure. There are plenty of explosions and a fair bit of squee-inducing gore, which should keep the action fans happy, but beyond that? An average tale executed nicely, but not exceptionally.