(First published in The New Indian Express)
Elysium refers to the luxurious space station that the wealthy and privileged have built for themselves to escape from an overpopulated earth crumbling on all fronts. For the naked eye, it is situated just above earth like a satellite and looms like Death Star over the unlucky ones on earth. In more ways than one, it is indeed their Death Star. People are constantly in an effort to get there forging citizenship like they forge passports today and flying over to Elysium like they cross borders today. It might sound a little stupid and ridiculous but the film probably tries to expand on that very same state of humanity that is spreading too fast if not already prevalent.
The problem is it doesn’t do it as convincingly and is quite a step down for director Neill Blomkamp from his much acclaimed first feature District 9. The themes are similar but the scope is much larger here. While District 9 dealt with the extraterrestrials confined to the eponymous area, here it deals with two whole planets (almost). The apartheid era issues that was ubiquitous in District 9 can be applied here too but while there was a more distinctive social commentary in the former, this sophomore effort has bigger stars and action as its central focus. Matt Damon plays Max, one of the less privileged folks who even as a kid dreams of moving up to the elusive Elysium along with his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga). When things get desperate for him he begins to take extreme measures and inadvertently begins a quest to save a ravaged earth.
It won’t be that ordinary a premise if it wasn’t all so tedious. The first act is especially lackadaisical in putting together any form of interesting narrative. The later portions are saved by the action but thanks to the uninteresting build up you don’t care enough for either Max or the plight of the marginalized population. There is very little in terms of investment in the characters and even Jodie Foster, who plays the defence secretary of Elysium comes across wooden with a strange dialogue delivery that’s supposed to convince us she is the devil incarnate. There is a parable narrated by Frey’s daughter that suggests as if one of the Elysium citizens will turn and help Max’s cause, possibly the mercenary Kruger played by Sharlto Copley, but the film doesn’t want to head in that direction and has bigger plans for him.
Elysium ends up proving the law of diminishing returns. The star cast may confirm Neill Blomkamp’s successful crossing over to mainstream Hollywood but it looks like he might have left the more rewarding and the more beautiful earth.