Elysium: A Solid Movie Starring Matt Damon (aka The Director’s 2nd Choice Behind…Eminem??)

I went to see the sci-fi action movie Elysium on its first day in the theaters for three main reasons:

  1. Matt Damon in a starring role gives any movie a ton of credibility. I know his filmography isn’t mistake-free (Adjustment Bureau was terrible, can’t imagine We Bought a Zoo was very good), but over the course of his 20-year career he’s earned the benefit of the doubt on most projects he chooses (especially when it comes to action roles).
  2. The concept. From the trailers on TV I gathered the film was about a future where the most elite humans have left an uninhabitable Earth to live the utopian life on a space station while the rest of mankind is trying to survive on the ravaged planet. And of course a group of those Earth-dwellers would be plotting their way onto that paradise floating in the sky.
  3. Neil Blomkamp, the director and co-writer of the movie, has made only one other well-known film, District 9. If you enjoyed that flick as much as I did, you probably agree that any other project he’s involved in is worth seeing.

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I assumed Elysium would be a can’t-miss hit for Sony because it just seemed like the obvious choice for “best action film of the summer.”

And when I showed up for the 10:45 a.m. playing of Elysium at my hole-in-the-wall Culver City theater, I was certain the movie would be all the talk after the weekend. Typically when I go to a weekday movie at this theater, there are anywhere between zero and five other people in attendance (even for the most-hyped of movies). When I walked in on Friday, there were at least 30 people. That’s a 600% increase. How could this film not knock it out of the park?

But then I read about their underachieving opening weekend

I’m wondering if the stench of two disappointing movies from earlier in the summer that also featured a destroyed planet Earth have made people wary of this latest installment. The two in question would be Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, and After Earth, starring the entire Will Smith family.

If that’s your reason for staying away from Elysium, I’m urging you to reconsider. It doesn’t come close to getting a 10 out of 10 in my official watchability scale (see below), but it’s a fun movie with a ton of great action.

If the “sci-fi” tag typically keeps you away from a movie, I can tell you it’s only sci-fi in the most technical sense that it takes place in the future and there are certain scientific truths that don’t yet exist in our world. It’s not a movie about aliens, zombies or ghosts.

It’s really a story about people trying to secure or elevate their social status in a world where that status could mean the difference between life and death.

Max Da Costa (played by Damon) always wanted to get up to Elysium (the space station), but as an adult he’ll settle for being a working-class citizen rather than the ex-con-on-probation status that we see him in at the start of the movie.

Secretary of Defense Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster), already a high-ranking citizen on Elysium has even grander aspirations.

Even the character Spider, a smuggler on Earth, who knows he’s doomed to live out his life on the self-destructing planet aspires to be among the most elite non-Elysium dwellers.

It’s all about status until certain people start to get sick, and then it becomes all about getting to Elysium where their magical medical pods can cure anything, including natural aging.

The movie has a few good twists so that by the end you’re not so concerned with whether Damon’s character will make it up to Elysium, but rather if he’ll stick with his goal of saving himself, or if he’ll do what needs to be done to change the course of human history.

The biggest criticism I had after walking out of the theater is that many details and backstory were skimmed over in exchange for more time with the action. We never really learn any character’s motivation for doing what they do except for Damon’s. We never get any insight into how the elite make their paradise run so perfectly. 

With the movie coming in at one hour and 45 minutes, I actually wouldn’t have minded them stretching it to the full two hours if they would have used that time for backstory and subplots.

You should see this movie if: You enjoy a ton of action, especially chase scenes and one-on-one combat. You enjoy all things Matt Damon. You enjoy films with not-so-subtle social messages (just like District 9). The underdog stories always fascinate you. You want to see the best action movie of the summer.

You should not see this movie if: Your least favorite movie genres are sci-fi and action. You can’t enjoy a movie unless there is explanation and backstory for everything. You dislike violence. You piss yourself at the sight of a little gore. You like deeply developed characters and lots of subplot.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I give it a 7 out of 10. If you haven’t been keeping up with my summer movie reviews (which you can find HERE), this means I’m ranking Elysium slightly ahead of World War Z (6.5 out of 10), but behind Star Trek Into Darkness (7.5 out of 10) and Fruitvale Station (8.5 out of 10).

I was going to end this post by saying I will continue to see any movie that Neil Blomkamp makes because they are fun, action-packed films…But then as I was fact-checking some information about Elysium, I saw this on Wikipedia: “The main role was offered to rapper Eminem, but he wanted the film to be shot in Detroit. That was not an option for the two studios, so Blomkamp moved on to Damon as his next choice.”

There are so many things wrong with that statement, but mostly the fact that Eminem was the choice to play a lead role in a $115 million film over Matt Damon. Now I have to question everything Neil Blomkamp does for the rest of his life.