The Good and Bad of Elysium

From Matt Damon to Jodie Foster, there's lots to recommend (and a little to dislike) in this utopia-meets-dystopia thriller.

It is 2154. Due to overpopulation and pollution, the world’s wealthiest and most powerful have abandoned Earth for a utopian society aboard the space station Elysium. Here, they never get sick, they are never in need, nor ever worry about safety. However, on Earth, people like Max (Matt Damon) live in slums. With few jobs, little money and unsafe conditions there is little hope for realizing their dreams: getting to Elysium. But when a tragic accident happens, Max must get to Elysium before it’s too late. Unless Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) can stop him, everything will change.

Elysium is a strong follow-up to director Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 Oscar-nominated debut District 9. With a great premise, great direction and a top-notch cast, there is much to recommend. [My grade: B] However, it is not a perfect movie. So before you head to see it this weekend — which I believe you should — here are some things to consider.

Good: Direction
It is hard to believe that this is only Blomkamp’s second feature film. With tight action sequences and a plot that has actual emotional and character development, he puts to shame the veteran directors who released action movies this summer. (Especially considering that Blomkamp’s budget was reportedly $90 million, while the budget for Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger was reported to be over $210 million. Seriously.)

Bad: Story’s Lack of Subtlety
Spanish-speaking people are trying to get in. Poor people want access to medical care. Throw in a subplot on celebrity boobs and you’d have today’s top stories on Huffington Post.

Good: Matt Damon
There is a reason that the latest Bourne movie didn’t work: it didn’t star Matt Damon. Few other actors are able to handle high action, high concept movies while believably delivering heartfelt dialogue. (And he followed this movie up with Behind the Candelabra. I mean, come on! Fabulous.)

Bad: William Fichtner
From The Lone Ranger to Go, Fichtner always seems to play these oily, molest-y men really well. I bet he is a very nice person, but frankly, he creeps me the hell out.

Good: Special Effects
With the barrage of superhero and action films each year, it feels like special effects are only used for overproduced action sequences: Something blows up, glass shatters, people are squashed. How rare (and wonderful) for them to be used to create something beautiful like the idyllic, nirvanic Elysium. Juxtaposed with the filthy slums of Earth, this Shangri-La spacecraft makes you want to live there, too.

Matt DamonBad: Violence
Not content to focus only on the tranquil Elysium, the filmmakers also use special effects for unnecessarily gruesome violence. Bodies explode. Limbs go flying. But the worst of all is the extreme close-up of the Med-Pod reconstructing a face that was previously blown off.

Jodie FosterGood: Jodie Foster
With a blunt, blonde hairstyle, sleek costumes and a don’t-f*ck-with-me-fellas demeanor, Foster looks perfectly cast as the Secretary of Defense. But…

Bad: Jodie Foster
…then she opens her mouth.

We know what she’s going for: a post-national, pan-world accent. But it is ultimately distracting, as her every line is filled with a different accent for each word. (Like she phonetically learned to speak English by listening to a Madonna interview being conducted in Afrikaans.) Plus, no other character speaks in the same way.

Well, at least we can take solace that she doesn’t have to say, “Nell and May are like trees in the wind.” Chicka, chicka, chickabay.

Good: Sharlto Copley
The star of District 9 is just not in enough movies.