To the stars go the spoilers.
Director Neill Blomkamp presents a rich and detailed world held back by a heavy hand. It has lots of things to say and not enough ways to say them.
The audience is presented with a dystopian future of haves and have nots where the world has become a ghetto and a space station in the stars has become the shining light of hope for all human kind… Well all of human kind able to afford it. Matt Damon stars as Max Decosta, an ex-car thief trying to get his life together. The visuals and Damon’s performance go a long way In setting up the world these characters inhabit.
The movie does a fantastic job in the first half of drawing in the audience and giving them the needed backgrounds for the characters and how they fit into the world. However, once we are in this world, the movie just abandons the audience and hopes it has given them enough information to carry them to the end.
Alice Braga plays Frey, Max’s best friend from childhood, whose own goals coincide with his in ways neither of them fully realize.
Jodie Foster portrays Elysium’s secretary of defense whose strong political convictions lead her down a dark path. William Fichther takes on the role of a business mogul in collusion with Foster’s schemes, and Sharlto Copley turns in an especially haunting if nonsensical performance as a bionic covert operations agent.
The first hour of the film is like watching a chess match where each side puts all their pieces in perfect position. Tensions are high and strategies are set in motion for the highest of stakes. The second hour is where the audience sees the fruits of these efforts laid bare and the payoffs amount to little more than heavy handed political posturing by two dimensional characters wrapped in gluttonous action set pieces.
Once Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at the plant where he works, he is given only five days to live. His mission now is to make it to Elysium where the life saving cure all machines of the rich and fabulous are kept. This is where the screenplay devolves into one half baked plot contrivance after another and the dialogue is simplified to only describing what the visuals are already conveying or merely expositing what the movie has already made clear. The villains are reduced to little more than moustash twirling level antics and all character development stops.
If I may describe a scene from the final fight sequence: Bad guy slashes good guy and says, “Oh see that I cut you and now your are bleeding”. This is the level of discourse we are reduced to.
Did the fight look really awesome? Yes. Were the characters sufficiently developed to the point where I cared who lived or died? Not so much.
To say the the second half of the movie is rushed and underwhelming would be an understatement.What we are left with is a visually stunning film whose first half writes a check the second can’t cash.