I will spoil this movie in this review. Don’t worry, though. There’s not much to spoil.
I have to admit, I was a huge fan of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9. It takes a helluva story to make someone feel compassion for shrimp. It was dirty and mean, and most importantly, realistic. When I watched it, there weren’t any gaping holes in the story. It had an internal logic that was more or less consistent. It did what sci-fi does well: create an allegory of current events and issues.
I’d heard from some reviews that Elysium wasn’t as good, but at least enjoyable. So I kept that in mind and hoped to see something cool. Something that I could at least take some kind of lesson from. What I didn’t expect was to feel the same way I felt after watching Prometheus. That is, I felt betrayed by the hype. I felt frustrated at the lazy writing. I gaped at the Battlefield Earth sized plot holes. I cringed at the tropes and broad generalizations. I shook my head at the basic misunderstanding of how space works.
First off, we have to address the main character, who was played as well as anyone would be able to play him by Matt Damon. My inability to connect with him stems mostly from the fact that he was written like an invincible superman. He gets irradiated (don’t worry, they have a pill for that), shocked, stabbed in the gut (which doesn’t stop him from running and jumping and doing acrobatic stuff) and unceasingly punched. They attach a mech-suit to him so he can invade Elysium, the giant spinny space-station that everyone on Earth (well at least everyone in LA) can seem to see hanging suspended in the sky at all times. They want him to overwrite the Elysium mainframe for the purpose of adding the entirety of Earth to the registry of Elysium citizens. Why would anyone give a shit about becoming a citizen of Elysium?
Because of the healthcare. That’s it. Everyone on Elysium is rich and everyone has a magic healing pod in their house. Lay down, get zapped for five seconds, and come out cured of cancer or rickets or Resting Bitch Face (RBF). The magic healing pods are so ubiquitous on Elysium that they have an overstock of them just sitting around. But the catch is that only Elysium citizens are allowed to use the magic healing pod. FOR SOME REASON.
This brings me to another one of the many things that bugged the hell out of me. There is not a single person of redeeming value at all within the citizenry of Elysium. Everyone up there is a douche. The head of security, Jodie Foster with a shitty accent, is the most proactive of the group, looking for any reason at all to kill non-citizens. Neither she, nor any other person seems to care that they are looking down upon a planet of sick and suffering humans. And they have the magic wand to cure them all. They all know it. They are instead content to have dinner parties and lounge in pools and make money on their investments (hey guys I think they represent the 1%!).
But then, there are people on Earth who try to sneak into Elysium. They board ships and fly right on up there. And the way Jodie Foster protects them is by getting a dude on the surface of the planet to launch shoulder-fired missiles at them. Not, you know, missiles launched from Elysium. It makes no sense. The security seems like an afterthought, and even she takes her own hamfisted shot at overthrowing Elysium by basically erasing the President’s name and scribbling in her own name as President in the Elysium government databank.
The main baddie isn’t Jodie Foster, though. She’s just evil and nasty and then dies without so much as a regret for being a complete asshole. The main dude is played by Sharlto Copley, a mercenary whose main job is to be mean and creepy and be the completely unnecessary End Boss where he and Matt Damon punch each other while wearing silly mech suits. It’s a cross between Pacific Rim and a sad hand job. Not exciting, but exhausting. The shaky-cam wasn’t nearly as bad as Man of Steel, but they ramped it up so much in the final battle that you couldn’t really see much. The shaking and blurriness and confusion must have been used in place of actual fight choreography.
All of this ineptness (and more that I can’t remember off the top of my head) makes me much less forgiving of simple Facts About Space. When something is in space near Earth, it has to be either orbiting, zipping right on by, or plummeting toward the surface. The space station seemed to be in the same place all the time, when viewed from the surface. If it were in low earth orbit, it would be zipping across the sky in about a minute. That means it must be in geosynchronous orbit. But it’s big and clearly visible in the sky, which means that it’s goddamned enormous. It would have to be, since the height of geosynchronous orbit is over 22,000 miles straight up. But when the ships from the surface go to meet the station, it sure looks like it’s in low earth orbit. And the ships from the surface seem to only need to go up, and not sideways really fast. I’d let that slide in a better movie, but this movie pissed me off. A movie about a space station should know how space stations work. I don’t care if you’re an idiot about orbital physics. Hire a grad student to point out where you’re an idiot.
All of this winds up with the movie’s central “story”. Matt Damon basically shoots and punches his way into heaven, and then sacrifices himself to give Obamacare to all of humanity. It’s a movie that I don’t think I’d ever care to see again, even for free. It’s bad in all the wrong ways (not campy or quirky, just lazy and boring and predictable and disappointing). Ugh. The only redeeming factor is that I only payed for a matinee ticket. Don’t watch this movie.