Elysium Review: In Greek Mythology the Elysian Fields was(were) “a place or condition of ideal happiness” (according to an online dictionary.) Director Neill Blomkamp going back to his District 9 bleak planet routine (is this a quasi-sequel to District 9?) utilizing parts of Mexico as the setting for his doom and gloom Los Angeles of 2154. The IMAX movie is actually a Mad Max redux, heavy doses of violence and anarchy – that old Morloks vs the Eloi surface dwellers theme from H.G. Wells The Time Machine (the George Pal 1960 version featuring Rod Taylor.) Though the humans on earth are not cannibalized as the Eloi were in the Time Machine, they might as well be. They are left to die on the planet below while the “elite” on Elysium have miracle healings inside a Michael Jackson-styled sleep chamber. What a great film for MJ to make a cameo in had he lived!
Though the stunning visuals do make everything look so expansive and futuristic, this is really a remake of the original Star Trek episode The Cloud Minders (1969, Season 3, Episode 21 based on a story by David Gerrold and Oliver Crawford, script by Margaret Armen). But the big hole in the plot is that in the year 2154, 141 years from now, one would think our race would be advanced enough to have colonized the moon, Mars and other asteroids and planets, making the entire premise of Elysium a moot point. Director Blomkamp is very direct that this is his dig at life in 2013 – humans avoiding the global warming situation, “homeland security” and terrorists (or – the opposition to the privileged on Elysium) sprinkled throughout the story – and thrown right in your face. . If you add to that the fact that the title, Elysium, has been used many times for movies prior to this more expensive entry (estimated at 90 million, three times the 30 million estimated for 2009’s District 9) you’ll have to suspend your belief that this is something new, different and exciting. It is not, but that doesn’t meant it is not highly enjoyable.
ELYSIUM – Official Full Trailer – In Theaters 8/9
Keep in mind the original Empire Strikes Back (1980, 11 years after the Star Trek episode referenced was broadcast) also featured a “city in the clouds” owned and operated by Billy Dee Williams’ character, Lando Calrissian. Elysium takes the whole concept to a new plateau.
Jodie Foster’s Madame Delacourt is very closely aligned to the role played by Ronny Cox as Mr. Vilos Cohaagan in the original Total Recall a film about – if you “recall” – Cohaagan controlling the air on Mars while the poverty-stricken mutants are left in squalor – with the threat of nothing to breathe hanging over their heads. It makes 50 cents to put some atmosphere in your tires today quite a bargain by comparison. Foster is, as always, delightful, with her never before heard stern neo-British accent and wardrobe resplendent in her Madeline White character’s favorite smart suits – straight out of Spike Lee’s Inside Man.
The message is loud and clear, earthlings are ignoring greenhouse gas in 2013, Matt Damon wants to be considered more than a one dimensional actor, and the us vs. them perpetual theme so essential in these early days of the new millennium for big bucks big action sci fi extravasplashaganzas.
But it works. Damon is fine as the low-rent Terminator-slash-Borg unit (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) decked out – not as Robocop – but Robo-thug – to get the computer information and the goods on the upper echelon Elysi-ites. And didn’t Keanu Reeves do this hard-drive-wired-to-the-brain routine three years before the Matrix in 1995 as Johnny Mnemonic?
As original as this film feels it is hardly that. The spinning wheel space station above the earth is amazing spectacle begging the question – if there’s one Elysium, why not many? Why not colonize the moon with similar rebooted atmospheres as speculated above?
When a “tipping point” arrives, a major theme of science fiction drama, a race must evolve or evaporate. See Keanu Reeves character in the Day the Earth Stood Still who decides if mankind has made the grade…or not. A division as in Elysium is not the logic Mr. Spock would applaud, therein another major hole in the plot. But in this film era of more bang for as many of your dollars as the motion picture industry can grab, Elysium delivers what is expected of the current crop of blockbusters (many costing two hundred million dollars or more) – from Batman, the Avengers, the Spider-man series, to the last Tom Cruise outing – Oblivion (coming in at a relatively cheap $120,000,000.00.) These slick, fast-action exercises a la The Bourne Supremacy, the Bourne Immediacy, the Bourne Trajectory…are just very expensive eye candy expected to double or triple their money – only to then seek a new life in cable TV premium channel reruns and Redbox/Netflix.
Had they organized the last living remnants of the original Star Trek crew for one more go at it, making this an official Star Trek entry, Elysium would suddenly be catapulted into the rare genre known as the Sci-fi Classic, but alas, that is just too obvious for Hollywood to comprehend.
President Patel, 2154’s version of Telly Savalas (give Faran Tahir the role, quickly, if there’s any thought of a Telly Savalas biopic) clashes with Foster’s re-worked Madeline White – Jodie’s aforementioned character from Spike Lee’s Inside Man. Foster and Damon are the only two legitimate movie superstars here, and they give the movie its focus. However, as smartly as Foster delivers her lines inside that deliberately strong-willed accent, at the end of the day it does tend to remind one of Zsa Zsa Gabor in Queen of Outer Space
Yes, Elysium is fun, but you have to put up with extreme gore and grisly scenes that were totally unnecessary, and as fast-paced and exciting as this work is, its potential was left unfulfilled. But don’t let my fascination with Sci-Fi and hope for finding its next Holy Grail stop you from seeing this. Elysium is lots of fun utilizing so many successful themes that have played out before.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.