Matt Damon stars as Max, a kid from a troubled background trying to turn over a new leaf in a future world that is a painfully obvious allegory for the way that rich nations today behave towards poorer ones (or towards the poor in their own countries). This sci-fi action thriller is heavy on the preaching and flashy effects and almost unbearably light on the plot and characters.
In a dystopian future the human population is split between Earth and Space. Wealthy people live in a clean, healthy paradise in the space station Elysium in orbit around the Earth and use the population of the planet below as a source of cheap labour. The poor people left behind on Earth live in squalor and poverty.
Unemployment, sickness and crime seem to be rife. The majority of people on Earth don’t seem to have work and many turn to crime preying on the slightly richer. Not much time is spent on exploring these social dynamics, the setup is introduced and we are firmly informed that it is bad and that the residents of Elysium are Evil while the salt of the Earth poor are Good.
Max is an orphan and ex-criminal who is trying to turn his life around and now works for a company run by the rich elite from space. Ironically he makes the police robots which have previously arrested and assaulted him. We get a brief sketch of Max’s childhood in flashbacks at the start and then jump to him as an adult. Almost no time is spent on the intervening years and apart from the fact that he has committed some crime(s) in the past and become estranged from his childhood friend, we find out nothing further by the end.
After an accident at work Max is obliged to return to crime with his old associates to try to get the means to cure himself. He is given a mission to steal some information which gets him entangled with some Earth based resistance and leads to the inevitable mission to the space station ostensibly for the purpose of curing Max but really furthering the film’s main theme of righting the wrongs that the rich have visited on the poor.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more equality in the world (and in spaaace if we ever get to live there) but it is really not what I chose to watch this film for and it is done in such an extremely heavy handed and implausible way that it really detracts from the rest of the film.
The main antagonist is South African bounty hunter Kruger, employed by the evil people running Elysium to carry out their dirty work back down on Earth. He looked like being a potentially interesting character due to obvious conflicts between living on Earth and being relatively rich while working for Elysium and never being able to compare to the power and wealth of the people there.
However he quickly turns out to be just another muscle bound thug who doesn’t mind who pays him as long as he gets the opportunity to kill people and potentially rape a few women. He gets a few more political ideas towards the end but essentially just shoots, punches and blows up people throughout the film.
Physics and computing are significant parts of the plot but unfortunately are often nonsense. The vehicles that travel from Earth to the space station seem to use conventional propulsion systems but do not appear to have the power to make the trip at all let alone in the time specified. The positioning of Elysium makes little sense in terms of daylight hours, being shadowed by the Earth, maintaining orbit etc.
On the computing side, there is no reason why the final solution to the Earth’s problems would work unless the people who designed Elysium’s computer systems were complete morons. And the encryption methods used on the data that Max is after are absurd and don’t make any sense.
Basically the whole film is an excuse for Matt Damon to show off his muscles at the beginning and for the effects guys to show off their exo-skeleton effects at the end. There’s a lot of fighting and loads of high tech gadgets and guns and explosions. It’s good enough fun I suppose but ultimately lacks any real depth in either character or plot.