MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Elysium’ is so bad it’s good

Print This Page

First Posted: 8/11/2013

Everybody had a big hearty laugh at the expense of Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp when they blamed “The Lone Ranger’s” failure on the shadowy cabal of critics who apparently have the ability to crush a burgeoning franchise with just a disappointed thumb and a few well-placed horse puns. Their statements were clueless, misguided, and mildly insane, but not without a certain speck of truth.

Speaking as a critic, I understand why Hammer and Depp hate us. Most of our work is created in darkness; we think your favorite movie is for weak, stupid babies and our hair is frequently disappointing and/or upsetting. Furthermore, our opinions are filtered through layers upon layers of neuroses, and we’re frequently overwhelmed by stupid, insignificant details. In short, if anyone actually paid attention to us, we’d be dangerous. But luckily, no one does – otherwise our overwhelmingly negative opinions of “Elysium” might have prevented people from seeing it. And believe me, “Elysium” is the movie that everybody needs to see. Everybody!

Granted, critics were right about “Elysium,” but they were right in the wrong way. “Elysium” is a bad movie, but it’s an electrifying kind of bad. Its weaknesses are actually its strengths. As you watch this, you know you’re being manipulated; you know the villains are one-dimensional cartoons; you know this film is oversimplifying complicated issues like illegal immigration, our broken health care system, and the economic downturn, but you’re too busy being entertained to care. “Elysium” is a true modern era grindhouse movie. It’s exploitive, violent, and completely sincere. It’s perfect.

Almost functioning as a thinly-veiled remake of his 2009 film “District 9,” Neil Blomkamp’s “Elysium” takes place in 2154, where the world (even Canada) has devolved into an unending urban hellscape. Unwilling to deal with the increasing levels of pollution and non-white faces, the rich get on their rocketships and head for Elysium, a manmade satellite where the air is clean, the McMansions identical, and life is everlasting thanks to the fact that every McMansion comes equipped with a healing chamber that can cure any injury or terminal ailment in a matter of seconds.

In this terrifying but inevitable future, Matt Damon plays an assembly line worker who is exposed to deadly levels of radiation and has only five days to live. Knowing his only salvation lies in the healing chambers on Elysium, Damon hooks up with some shady characters from his past to illegally gain entry on the satellite. However, there’s a catch. In order to save his own life, Damon not only must download the contents of a fey military industrialist’s brain (William Fichtner), but do it while decked out in a black exoskeleton that’s surgically attached to his skull and spine. Of course, this ill-considered heist falls apart immediately, and it isn’t long before Damon is pursued by a fascist politician (Jodie Foster performing a stiff Margaret Thatcher impression) and a wildly psychotic mercenary (Sharlto Copley), who is so crazy he flips people off after he’s blown them up.

In “Elysium,” everything is rendered in broad strokes. The poor are good, working class heroes while the rich are inherently evil scumbags. But is that really such a bad thing? Do subtlety and nuance really have a place in any discussion about the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots? Especially if that discussion happens to take place in a movie where a cyborg is shown ripping the head off an android a few moments before shoving a grenade in the face of an evil cyborg? Have we really reached a point in all of our lives where we’re actually considering the feelings of the filthy rich? Of course we haven’t, and if you’re like me and constantly on the verge of living out your remaining days in a cardboard box, then you have to see “Elysium” right now before severe malnutrition robs you of your eyesight.

Rating: W W W W