South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp's first film, District 9, was applauded for how it managed to work as both an exciting sci-fi actioneer and also as an allegory for the history of apartheid in his home country. I've read some interesting discussions about the politics of Blomkamp's work and how violent and disturbing they may be. I'd hate to make the jump of assuming that his work is a reflection of his personality, but if I were, Blomkamp seems like somewhat of a nihlist. Then again (and this is what I like about his films), I realize that I come to this conclusion because of being able to live a privileged life in more ways then one. Perhaps his films strike a chord of reality for some and with his second film, Elysium, Blomkamp is working with a bigger budget and seems to be hoping to use that scale to hammer more ideas into our minds. I just don't think the allegory presented in the film pans out.
Elysium deals with class warfare, healthcare, and transhumanism (a term I wasn't even aware of until I started reading the works of comic book writer Jonathan Hickman, look him up) among other things. I don't think Blomkamp or any writer for that matter always sets out with their firmly defined themes before they start a script. Sure one must have an inkling of an idea and a story they want to tell, but sometimes the message may just spring to life naturally out of the story. The screenplays of David Webb Peoples come to mind such as Blade Runner or 12 Monkeys. Those two films can be completely admired as the most imaginative works of science-fiction, but so much about our humanity can be said in between the set pieces. My biggest problem with Elysium is that the plot just doesn't seem to sustain the metaphor for all that long.
The movie moves pretty fast with frantic camerawork and quick editing. Before we know it the characters are moving through their paces toward the end of the story and when the film gets to its third act, I found that for all the visual originality one can find in this film, the story's conclusion just seemed illogical. [MILD SPOILERS UNFORTUNATELY] The space station Elysium is built up the entire movie to be this impenatrable fortress. Yet Kruger (Sharlto Copley) and his mercenaries are able to take over the entire station in a manner of minutes by tossing a bomb into a room (these same mercs that a former car thief was able to outsmart). Then everything just comes together so Max (Matt Damon) is able to achieve his goals coincidentally in the allotted time whereas earlier in the film it truly felt like he was having such struggle against a ticking clock.
Everything comes together in the end just for the message to come across and it almost makes the one-man sacrifice of Max's character seem less believable. I was buying the savior-complex up until the end and Matt Damon is such an excellent enough actor that he does his best to make his character seem worthy of the mission that falls before him. A shame that other characters feel one-dimensional and just serving the movie's politics such as hard-nosed administrator played by Jodie Foster, the cold business man played by William Fichtner, or the eccentric and violent gangster played by Wagner Moura. At least Sharlto Copley does steal the show quite a bit as a character of pure cruelty.
If the movie had slowed down a bit, perhaps I'd be able to admire just how well made it actually is and forgive any shortcomings of a story that wears its ideas a little too much in plain sight.