"Elysium" is the second movie from director Neill Blomkamp, whose "District 9" was an inspired piece of filmmaking, inventive in plot and special effects.
It was also a powerful allegory for the horrors of the South African apartheid, dressed up as a sci-fi thriller, with unique ideas realized through a visual intelligence that was equally original.
It was masterful entertainment.
This film publicity image released by TriStar, Columbia Pictures-Sony shows Matt Damon, right, in a scene from “Elysium.”
(AP Photo/TriStar, Columbia Pictures - Sony, Kimberley French)
"Elysium" shares many ingredients with "District 9," - a similar genre, some stunning images, a provocative premise, class disparity - yet it is nothing like that movie.
Instead, "Elysium" is the horribly paced, often visually incoherent, and downright boring version of "District 9," novel in concept, but a failure in execution.
It takes place in 2154 when the world is split into two social classes -rich and poor - as a result of overpopulation and widespread pollution and disease.
The poor people live on Earth while the rich live on Elysium, a torus-shaped space habitat that orbits the Earth.
Elysium is a paradise, with a luscious atmosphere and "med pods" that can heal any malady. In one scene, a man undergoes a flawless facial reconstruction after his face is ripped apart by a grenade. In another scene, a woman is instantly cured of cancer.
In stark contrast to Elysium, planet Earth is desolate, and its inhabitants envy the people of Elysium. They all dream to one day leave Earth for a better life.
In fact, many resort to illegal methods of transport to get there. Instead of crossing terrestrial borders, the people of Earth have to cross a vast canvas of space, leaving them vulnerable to Elysium's missile defense system - a reference to contemporary immigration issues.
But the allegory stops there, becoming nothing more than a real-world reference to justify an outlandish plot that follows Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), a former car thief whose honest robot-manufacturing job one day exposes him to a lethal dose of radiation.
Given only five days to live and determined to make it to Elysium to cure himself, Max accepts help from some of his criminal associates. They outfit him with futuristic armor that is imbedded in his nervous system, making him a one-man killing machine.
The moment Max dons his new armor is the same moment "Elysium" becomes an action movie that bludgeons audiences with sequences that are cut so fast they descend from impressionistic to just plain unintelligible, even if some of the weapons Max uses are visually amusing.
At one point, he obliterates an enemy with a gun that can fire around corners, referencing the weaponry of modern video games.
What doesn't help the poorly edited action scenes is that each one is treated as a climax.
Thus, the movie is a failure in pacing, building absolutely no suspense, attacking the audience with big pictures and sounds instead of engaging it with memorable spectacle and nuanced characterizations.
Even the soundtrack lacks nuance, utilizing percussive blasts of doom to convince the audience to take the movie seriously.
The only thing that gradually builds in "Elysium" is a sense of boredom at too many references that don't add up to a whole lot.