Saturday, August 17, 2013
Photo: Movie's poster, from its Wikipedia page.
Elysium is a very satisfying action / sci-fi movie with a surprisingly blatant social commentary about immigration and health care. Because immigration is such a fireplug, your stance on it may very well decide how you enjoy the movie. As a guy who's usually sick with sinus infections, and who has a mostly-liberal bent, this stance was okay with me, but if you're a solid conservative, or severely anti-immigration, consider yourself forewarned.
It stars Matt Damon, who can do this sort of action movie in his sleep these days, and Jodie Foster, in a role that's rather thankless and one-note. Foster, in fact, is sort of wasted in this role, and she gives herself an occasional accent that befuddles as well. Writer / director Neill Blomkamp didn't seem to know what to do with her character after the film's bad guys enter Elysium (the utopian society in space populated only by the rich), though while watching the movie, I thought her character could have still gone places: though a psyche reversal was clearly not going to happen, she could have been more of a problem for Matt Damon's character. Maybe Blomkamp felt the bad guy was more than bad enough, and I suppose he is. After all, he gets a large chunk of his face blown off, and stays conscious the whole time until he's re-configured by one of Elysium's health pods. And as you may imagine, if he was a really angry bad guy before his face was blown off, he becomes even more severely pissed off afterwards. In truth, his character is a comic book villain, and I have already taken the character more seriously than the viewer is supposed to. Suffice it to say, he, more than Jodie Foster's character, is Damon's character's obstacle.
Speaking of Damon, he does a good job here, even though he plays an ex-con, a side of his character that is not heavily covered, which is perhaps a good thing, since Damon doesn't come across as an ex-con kind of guy, whatever that is. He's too earnest, too sacrificial. In fact, all of the ex-cons (and current cons) on Earth come across much more altruistically than I'm going to guess ex-cons really would. There's not a sincerely bad guy in that bunch; they're all victims of dystopian class-consciousness. Originally his character was going to do some shady things in order to get himself to Elysium's health pods, to cure him of a massive radiation blast he accidentally incurred at work. He's got just five days to live otherwise, and a truly depressing, soul-sucking, worker-ant life to go to even if he is cured, so he really has nothing left to lose. But when we're introduced to a little girl who needs to get to Elysium's health pods to cure her of Stage Three leukemia, you know that Damon's character will willfully get the short end of the stick. It is one of the slight letdowns: the viewer never has a doubt that he will overcome all odds and save the little girl.
Despite the transparency of the plot, the movie still worked for me because of Damon's earnestness, because of the incredible special effects (which are shown only with necessary, and never overdone to the point of CGI overload), and because of the great action pacing. And the score, too, I guess, though that, more than the special effects, gets overused at times. I also could have done without the blatant moralizing, though I do agree wholeheartedly with its point. It's just that the message is as in-your-face as the action sequences, and so they made odd bedfellows to me. If that message doesn't bother you, the movie is worth seeing if you like action / sci-fi / special effects movies. If the message does bother you, I still recommend the movie if (and only if) you really like action / sci-fi / special effects movies. There's enough to like here without the message getting in the way, if you don't agree with it.
And what is that message, exactly? That every immigrant who wants to come to the U.S. for health care should make it? (In the movie, Earth is very clearly Mexico, or other very poor countries, and Elysium is very clearly the U.S.) That health care should be universal? That the U.S. / Mexican border wall should come down? I don't know, and I don't think the movie really knows, either. But it's some combination of all of those things. The movie won't sway you, either way, and it certainly won't change your mind, no matter what side of the fence you're on.