Neill Blomkamp's 2009 feature debut, District 9, would've garnered my vote for Best Picture out the Academy Awards nominees that year. It was a sharp sci-fi tale whose political undertones were the antithesis of Avatar's heavy-handed clobbering of the audience with a placard; if you got the allegories or not, the story worked. However, as word started seeping out that his big-budget follow-up Elysium was a class-warfare story tapping into the envy madness of the Occupy Wall Street morons, I became concerned and when reviews confirmed it was pretty much as I feared - even some liberal critics were complaining about how heavy-handed it was - I decided to give it a miss in the theaters. Why should I shell out cash to be lectured by a multi-millionaire celebrity like star Matt Damon about how greedy I am when he himself is part of the rich elites who are supposedly the villains ruining everything?
While watching Elysium from my couch, I rapidly realized that its biggest problem wasn't the simple-minded "Poor people GOOD! Rich people BAD!" politics as much as it was a stupid story filled with unsympathetic and poorly-motivated characters. Matt Damon's dying poor man driven to desperate measures is an ex-con who brings a lot of his misfortune upon himself and if Blomkamp was trying to make him a complicated and conflicted reluctant hero, he fails, partially on the page and in Damon's meathead performance. (Note: While Damon is a douche offscreen, I generally like his work. Unlike some, I can cope with the toxic hypocritical politics of most celebutards and enjoy their work, but he's just weak here.)
Then there are the myriad dumb things we're supposed to just accept like Jodie Foster's evil defense director of Elysium ordering renegade shuttles bringing dirty poor people to the station shot down by her sleeper agent Kruger (an off-the-chain Sharlto Copely who appears to have decided to be in his own movie) with a shoulder mounted rocket launcher and we're supposed to believe the rockets were able to catch up to speedy ships with a couple hundred mile head start. (Aren't there defense guns on the station if this is a problem?) That badass exoskeleton bolted to Damon is put on over his clothing raising the question of how he ever showers or changes clothes. The top of Elysium's ring world is open to space, but the air doesn't leak out. Huh?
Where the world-building really fails is explaining how this system works. Yeah, yeah, the rich suck and built a space station (think: gated community) to get away from the po' folks (think: Detroit) and they hog magic medical beds in every house that can cure cancer or reconstruct broken bones and blasted faces in seconds, but if the filmmakers were trying to make a statement about the need for universal health care, they don't really explain why this magic devices aren't ubiquitous. We're just to accept that it's Mean Rich People being mean and rich, but at the movie's end we see shuttles filled with beds heading to Earth to cure the peasants. Why do these ships exist? Heck, why do people have med beds in their homes to eradicate their skin cancer cells; can't they have a community bed at the clubhouse like a tanning bed?
Even Foster's scheme begs the question: How is Elysium's government set up that a chunk of computer code can reboot the station, replace the President and allow someone to change the status of the billions of people on Earth to citizens. I get that there isn't time to explain everything, but Elysium explains absolutely nothing about how the world came to be that way. It's just, "Things sucked, so the evil rich people moved out, leaving us noble poor folks behind to suffer." Just as Avatar refused to explain what was so important about Unobtainium so as to not cloud the Manichean preaching, Elysium begs the question and hopes we'll just accept it and get on with the bone-crunching bone-head story.
Speaking of Foster, she's simply awful here; even more cartoonish than the rest of the cartoons. Sporting a severe coif and an accent even more indeterminate than Idris Elba's mess in Pacific Rim. I don't think I've ever seen a performance from her that could be described as bad, but I guess there's a first time for everything. Granted, lousy characters begin on the page, but she's nearly twirling her metaphoric mustache here. (If you want to see a better version of Jodie being sexy bad, check out Spike Lee's Inside Man.)
With all the dumb, noisy stuff going on, the excellent production design and visual effects work gets lost in the shuffle. District 9 had a very natural look in the way its prawns were integrated into the environments (though I've got to imagine the poor VFX artists trying to keep the aliens feet on the ground within the handheld camera work weren't too thrilled with the task) and that carries over here as well with few exceptions. Whether its the way the Mexico City and Vancouver locations are altered and extended to be the slums of LA and the space station or the robot cops oppressing the people, it looks and feels real which only makes the dunderheaded script feel worse.
As "income inequality" is being hyped up by a liberal media desperate to distract from their President's failed ObamaCare disaster, we'll probably see another attempt to have Elysium propped up as an Important Parable after it disappointed at the box office. While that's BS, the fundamental problem with Elysium isn't its trite politics but it's flaccid and thin story.
Score: 3/10. Skip it.