Elysium

Ely­sium” has a nice premise: a 140-odd years from now, the priv­i­leged few live in a giant space sta­tion, Ely­sium, an idyl­lic habi­tat com­plete with sub­ur­ban man­sions and swim­ming pools, high above the pol­luted and dis­eased Earth. But that’s where the good ideas end. “Ely­sium” involves a des­per­ate man named Max, who has only a few days to live after a radi­a­tion acci­dent at work, and a race to upload society-upending data—which a lot of bad peo­ple would kill for— from his brain into a cen­tral com­puter of Ely­sium before his time runs out. Doing so would make every­one, a cit­i­zen of Ely­sium, and there­fore privy to free health care—you lie down in a bed that heals you if you are stricken with a degen­er­a­tive ill­ness and recon­structs your face if it was blown off by a grenade. The cit­i­zens of Ely­sium have this tech­nol­ogy, the bil­lions suf­fer­ing on Earth don’t. Max, played by Matt Damon, and about to die, wants to get up there and heal him­self. At the same time, the idea is to save human­ity, and his loved one’s daugh­ter, because he and some other crim­i­nals got their hands on lines and lines of code that would reset the whole sys­tem and have it stored in Max’s brain with the help of an exo-skeleton, which also grants him super­hu­man strength.

The film is directed by Neil Blomkamp, who made “Dis­trict 9.” The great thing about that movie, sharp and almost satiric, was that it could be summed up in a few words: NO ALIENS ALLOWED. It reversed the dom­i­nant alien-invasion con­cept, and was a stroke of pure genius. What “Ely­sium” has to say is nei­ther par­tic­u­larly sharp nor satiric, nor does it awe you; it’s an angry fists-in-the-air film about how the wealthy will fall and social equal­ity will pre­vail. The end­ing has gleam­ing med­ical ships descend­ing down from Ely­sium and heal­ing the world, which is nice, to be sure, but while watch­ing all I could think of was how “Ely­sium” seemed to be the prod­uct of a group of film stu­dents’ Red Bull-besotted minds, while they were play­ing HALO and tele­vi­sion cov­er­age of Occupy Wall Street was on in the back­ground. “Ely­sium” has great visual effects, and has moments that would make for an impres­sive reel, but the story reeks of an ama­teur, infe­rior, care­less, flawed quality.

There’s a scene early on that demon­strates the unblink­ing ici­ness of the Ely­sium secu­rity chief, played by Jodie Fos­ter, and a lot of other things too. Three space­ships, full of refugees seek­ing med­ical atten­tion, launch from Earth and attempt to reach Ely­sium. Fos­ter, with parsed lips, and the rest of her team watch the tra­jec­tory of the ships on a big screen which flashes big words for the audience’s sake. She doesn’t order them to be shot down imme­di­ately but instead sends word down to one of her agents on Earth, who fires mis­siles up into the atmos­phere with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. Two of the ships are blown up; the other does basic eva­sive maneu­ver­ing and man­ages to land on Ely­sium (what hap­pened to the mis­sile?), strew­ing refugees all across per­fectly kept green lawns and caus­ing cock­tail glasses to be dropped in panic. Home­land Secu­rity, rep­re­sented by gleam­ing red robots, run around with Tasers. It’s a big scan­dal. You bet. My mouth was agape with incredulity. Are you telling me that the space sta­tion home to the rich­est peo­ple (not) on Earth doesn’t have some kind of auto­mated defense sys­tem? Can any­one pick up a big gun and send a mis­sile up to Ely­sium, or with a lit­tle amount of luck fly a space­ship onto someone’s man­sion? This might seem like nit­pick­ing, but it’s the kind of filling-in-the-details world-building that is woe­fully lack­ing and makes “Ely­sium,” so full of holes that it’s sink­ing, suf­fer. C+