In an average year, Elysium would be getting a great deal of attention as an intelligent, savvy summer action film. It's R-rated science fiction for adults, with themes that reach beyond its surface trappings and clever-enough mechanics. In 2013, however, where so much has been so strong already, it seems that perhaps Elysium's deserved hype is taking a bit of a critical hit, possibly as a result of a certain ennui. It gets tough to write positive review after positive review, and when most years are a more thoroughly mixed bag, it seems only normal to expect an existential crisis: is this movie actually good or are my standards just dropping? This, it seems to me, is maybe the only logical reason I've come up with for Elysium's relatively disappointing opening this weekend. After much buzz, the film has opened to a comparatively slight amount of fanfare, and even a few ill-placed mentions of After Earth. That's just not right. While Elysium tends towards the heavy-handed in its action sequences and in its big picture themes, it's the sort of science fiction that can, and should, be generally described as a good movie.
This could be an interesting idea, but it's rather distracting, and, frankly...I'm not convinced. When we lose the subtitles of the prawns and switch into a story requiring more typical, exposition-heavy dialogue than District 9, Blomkamp also noticeably loses some of his edge. With the bigger budget, too, comes a less impressive mastery of the material. District 9 was tiny and gritty. It worked, it felt personal. Elysium is giant and lumbering, lording over you with its mashed up ideas and influences. There are very bluntly heavy talking points here, often coming from Delacourt, and they lend an insincerity to the film that doesn't quite mesh with the genuineness its story is invested with. IMMIGRATION. HEALTHCARE. BAAAAAAAHHHHHH. Still, Elysium is a strong film that pulls you towards its characters and gives you reasons to wish for their success. Though technically a work of very practiced dystopian science fiction, the sci-fi elements here are most prominent when you step back, but seem to disappear into the cold facts of the film's environment while you're watching. Even when Max is bolted into a robotic 'suit' and battling in space, Elysium has a weird plausibility that works to its advantage. It's got style, it builds a compelling world, and that will be what saves it.