Elysium: Fuss without Fuzz
Post-apocalyptic sci-fi ELYSIUM features a shrill Jodie Foster and a Matt Damon tricked out like the Eiffel Tower (minus the expensive auberge, starry sky or Chablis).
You know going in that it is an action-adventure sci-fi, but even those genre films usually entertain the cine-goer. In a general audience packing the 42nd Street Regal, there was exactly one laugh in the entire 2-hour CGI mess. One. Sorry as that seems, the film didn't deliver on the goods it was created to produce. Thrills. The gasp factor. Believability...nah.
In 2154, the Earth is all fetid, overpopulated, and corrupt, policed by jumbo-robotic androids with no sense of humor. Where Damon lives, as the cameras do a flyover, resembles Detroit with a splash of L.A. smog and Brazilian favela, more or less. The well-to-do with clean faces and high-tech high-sheen clothes have long since abandoned the wreck of terra and live on a gleaming, greenly landscaped pretzeloid space station, while the rest of mankind subsist in animal squalor below on the ruined third-rock planet. Elysium looks approximately like Malibu before iPhones.
Damon, ill and slated to expire, with little to lose, takes on a "suicidally" extreme mission that could "bring equality" to the polar opposite worlds. That "equality" thing is the get. It's a blatant bid for open immigration dressed up in the raiment of an action-adventure futurist fantasy. The film seems structured to be Damon's pitch to re-butch himself after his fey role of chauffeur and friend-with-benefits in the recent HBO special Behind the Candelabra, about Liberace, anchored by a counterintuitive Michael Douglas as the sequined pianist.
With a production in the $100 million atmos, this is a film without an ounce of juice. Lots of special effects, a strong production design of a glittering station in space beyond the down-market and sludgy Earth, but no sizzle at all.
You could not care less what happens to Damon, to brusque Jodie Foster (overacting, or possibly not in control of her facial over-emotiveness), to pretty love-interest Frey/Alice Braga (Sonia Braga's niece, this time, joining her cousin and aunt in the biz), or even the sick somnolent child Braga schleps through most of the movie, or even to her child, ailing allegedly with leukemia, in need of the "health bay" recuperative magic not available down there, but widely on Elysium. You couldn't empathize with anyone, or identify with the nasty bit of business played by S. African villain Sharlto Copley. William Fichtner, by virtue of knife-carved cheekbones, no doubt, also CEOs this plutocratic fiefdom without mercy.
When a big-name character dies or is killed, you watch impassively for a blink, then turn your attention elsewhere. There is zero resonance to any of it.
Even the too-long futuristic swordplay and clanking bad guy/good guy mash-ups, with that hackneyed split-second editing in all that flashy tin-pot body armor, is both too unnecessary and not decisive enough. It ain't Yoda and the light sabers. You have to pull back derisively as the "evil" side's medical operating room, where the auto-strengthener mechanical superstructure is installed in Mr. Mechano's bald head and clothed upper torso, is pigsty filthy, run by what appear to be road-kill bikers without even a nod to sterile technique. Or pain reduction. Damon does mewl, "Is this going to hurt?" as the cameras turn chastely away from too much bloody scalpel work.
You have to laugh as you notice that because of mechanical needs, the metal hardware is installed onto Damon's clothed body. So we are to understand that he'll never need to change his T-shirt? And the radiation poisoning Damon sustains in the opening bothers him just a modicum, quickly forgotten? Ordinary people would have seen their skin peeled off and their stamina massively inhibited immediately, not allayed by a quick-fix spinal implant (think Meryl Streep, Silkwood ). Damon of course goes on to kick major buttock despite his lethal poisoning.
As was true for a prior agenda-driven Damon effort selling some leftist version of natural gas or drilling antipathy (Promised Land, 2012) that pilloried independent entrepreneurs and Big Oil, the agenda here is evident. Raggedy immigrants clamber desperately into illicit junker space vehicles (C-130s on uglifying steroids), only to be mowed down by uncaring meanies, directed by the hegemon Jodie Foster represents, who have neither heart nor help for these interloping queue-jumpers into their space-based gated community.
We know the trailer looks enticing. As far as one viewing goes, ELYSIUM as an enterprise is a costly black hole, sucking in all light, fun, and empathy.