ELYSIUM review by Gary Murray – Matt Damon enters the world of sci-fi

ELYSIUM review by Gary Murray – Matt Damon enters the world of sci-fi

Elysium - Poster

Matt Damon has taken his own path in the world of cinema. The actor/producer/writer has been in such successful films as True Grit, the Ocean’s series and the Bourne series. He has also appeared in more art house fair such as Promised Land and Contagion. Unlike his buddy Ben Affleck, Matt seems to stay out of the paparazzi spotlight and do his job. The latest Damon flick is the sci-fi adventure Elysium.

The time is 2154 and the Earth has become a wasteland. It is over-populated and depleted of resources. The super rich have moved off planet and on a rotating space station called Elysium. The place is massive, miles across and populated with almost nothing but white people. From Earth it looks like a star in the sky. For the sci-fi geeks, it resembles Larry Niven’s Ring World.

Everyone on Earth dreams of being able to migrate to Elysium. Max (Matt Damon) was an orphaned kid who has led a life of petty crimes. He is trying to keep on the straight and narrow but it is harder not to fall back into a life of crime. He cracks a joke to a cyber cop and gets his arm broken.

At the dilapidated hospital, he runs into Frey (Alice Braga). As children, the two became fast friends and maybe something more. She has risen above her station and is a nurse. There are still sparks between the two. She mends his wound with what little medicine they have around.

Elysium has the best medical care devised. With a machine that looks like an MRI device, they can cure any and all diseases including cancer. The people of that world do not age and do not die. Elysium has a president but also has a security chief named Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who has no problem shooting down transports of non-Elysium citizens. She is the last line of defense in the Homeland Security department and one strong-willed woman.

Max gets exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at the robot factory and has only five days to live. His cure is on Elysium and he needs passage to the space station. The only way that is going to happen is through nefarious means.

He takes on a job that no one in the underworld wants. He will download the memory of a rich person so all his pass codes can be stolen and money absconded. The thieves implant a mechanical skeleton to the outside of Max’s body to help him survive the five days. The person chosen is Max’s boss Carlye (William Fichtner), the CEO of the robot factory.

Unknown to the thieves, the brain of Carlyle has a secret program to seed control of the station and start a coup. The information becomes the ‘keys to the kingdom’ to a better life. Delacourt has decided to take over Elysium and needs that program.

The story of Elysium is the confrontation of these two groups. Everyone has a different agenda and a conflicting set of goals. One is trying to save their way of life and the other is trying to become an equal citizen. Everyone in the story is self-centered.

The buildings on Elysium look like areas of Brentwood in LA and the world of Los Angeles on Earth looks like the worst of Mexico. With all the little brown people running around the Earth speaking Spanish and the mostly white people of Elysium speaking French and English, there is a subtle degree of racism in the production of the film.

There are going to be film theory students who are going to write about how Elysium is a stunning retort of the 1% versus the 99% or how this is the way Republicans will have the world if they ruled. Sometime academics take this stuff way too seriously. The single best part of the film is how the robots blow up with fierce flares of fire.

Matt Damon is doing his best sci-fi Charlton Heston with his character of Max. He is part Omega Man, part Soylent Green with just a smidge of Planet of the Apes thrown in. This is not the kind of role that wins awards but it is the kind of role remembered by the fans decades later. He does stoic almost as well as Steve McQueen.

Jodie Foster plays a rotten character so well one has to wonder why she has not done it before. She is tough as nails, a devious woman who believes in her agenda to protect Elysium at all costs. Her means to that end are laser focused.

The film is directed by Neill Blomkamp, (the guy behind District 9), and it has much the feel of his earlier work. He can keep the action going while still finding moments to grow his characters. It strikes a tight balance of pain and pathos.

Politics aside, Elysium is a decent action flick that is too heavy handed for its own good. Nihilistic science fiction has been out for decades. Parts of the film feel like a modern update of Metropolis while others are a rehash of those ‘end of mankind’ flicks that were a giant part of early 1970s cinema. To a 21st century audience this different approach may feel fresh, but ultimately it was a bit redundant.

ELYSIUM is set to hit 2D and IMAX theaters on August 9, 2013.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.