A Poor Man’s Big-Budget Blockbuster

Dana Stevens gives Elysium – not to be confused with the brilliant PSB album – low marks:

Like District 9Elysium takes on contemporary problems of economic and social injustice—this time not racial prejudice but the vast worldwide gulf between haves and have-nots. But after taking some pains to imagine and present a mid-22nd-century world that’s a plausibly grim extrapolation of the one we live in, Blomkamp proceeds to spend the last two-thirds of his film crashing spaceships into lawns, or staging high-tech fistfights between Elysium’s stolid hero and his even duller arch-nemesis. It’s a waste of a perfectly good dystopia.

Wesley Morris also pans the movie:

Blomkamp is a talented, loosely visionary director, but, after two movies, it appears to be a limited vision. He’s stuck between real rebellion and real marketability.

So the new movie is a mess of violence and parental devotional, but rarely at the same time. Depending on the audience, one is meant to make the other palatable. And Damon is here to make Elysium palatable to everyone.

Orr agrees that the film has issues:

Blomkamp is a holder of strong political convictions (in interviews, he has said of his film, “This isn’t science fiction. This is today. This is now.”) and as his issue horizon has expanded from apartheid to immigration, health-care access, and the general divide between haves and have-nots, his narrative focus seems to have gotten hazier.

There’s still much to recommend Elysium. Damon gives a characteristically appealing performance. Blomkamp generously spares us the kind of tedious exposition—how Elysium works, why its atmosphere doesn’t float away, etc.—that so often clogs up science-fiction fare. And the visuals are terrific enough to merit the price of a ticket all on their own. For a while, they enable Blomkamp to create a world so physically persuasive as to keep disbelief suspended. But eventually the accumulation of illogic is too heavy, and Elysium crashes back to Earth.

Update from a reader:

Why are you bashing a filmmaker who is trying to create something different within the confines of Hollywood? Read my other favorite Andrew (O’Hehir) on Elysium, or at least offer a link to him.