The long answer is I was a huge fan of District 9 which, in a medium that seems to favor technophobic scare tactics (see: Splice and the upcoming Transcendence), stood out as something that truly deserved the label "science fiction." What I want from science fiction is interesting aliens (if you plan on having aliens at all), social commentary, and a healthy dose of speculative politics. District 9 ticked these boxes and more. While it ticked some better than others, it was a huge breath of fresh air, especially considering Avatar had failed to connect with me on any emotional level whatsoever. The fact that D9 had a great sense of humor, special effects that actually worked, and futuristic guns which blew people up like the produce at a Gallagher show didn't hurt, either.
So here's what Elysium is about: it's the future. Rich people live on a space station. Poor people live on Earth. The space between the two objects is more or less a metaphor for the American-Mexican border, but I won't go much into that because the movie doesn't go much into it either. Earthlings are oppressed by the rich people's robots (courtesy of fantastic special effects, by the way) and the factory that manufactures the robots is where Matt Damon's character, Max, works. After receiving a lethal dose of radiation on the job, Max is told he's got a few days left to live.
On Elysium the rich people have futuristic tanning beds which can cure any ailment. All Max has to do, in theory, is sneak onto Elysium and get into one of the beds. However, Jodie Foster's border patrol is on high alert so Max—I hope you're following all of this—has to have a robotic exoskeleton surgically hardwired to his body. One thing I'm more than thrilled to report is, as far as movies go, this is as cyberpunk as you can typically get.
A lot of the passion is gone in Neill Blomkamp's follow-up, though. Here's a movie which is far from terrible, but none of it really clicks. There was a wide variety of action sequences in D9. In Elysium, it's all about the gunfights. When you have a giant space station in the shape of a wheel with an atmosphere that's held in by centrifugal force alone, you're telling me the most you can come up with is standard shootouts, the majority of which take place on desolate earth?
My God. So much wasted potential here. Where's the excitement? Where's the stuff I've never seen in a movie before?
And is there a reason why Jodie Foster speaks in a phony accent? Hell, even William Fichtner is off his game here, and that guy's almost always brilliant. Casting Sharlto Copley (he was the weenie hero of District 9) as bad guy Kruger is one of the best things about the movie, but his character just isn't developed enough. And I like Matt Damon and he certainly feels at home in a movie like this, but again, the character himself leaves a lot to be desired.
There is a bit involving a grenade that got a huge laugh out of me. There's more to it than that, it turns out, and they make a sort of interesting use of the previously mentioned medical beds.
At the end of the day, I wouldn't say Elysium does much to scar Blomkamp's reputation. Unfortunately, that says more about how good D9 was than it does about Elysium. I'm still excited to see his next movie. Hell, I still want to see what he would do in the Halo universe, which was the original plan for the director.
Elysium is a fairly solid rental, but only if you don't have something better to do on your Friday night.