Ah the mighty triumvirate of “Earth sucks lets go somewhere else” movies is finally over, concluding far above the dismal depths of After Earth and falling short of the excellent Oblivion. This film is very solid, but yet the flaws are sort of glaringly obvious when they appear. The action is well shot and very interesting, the acting is by and large perfectly adequate, and the design of the world is superb. However it just doesn’t have a good script nor a good plot, and those two things harm the movie’s efforts at being anything more than a relatively smart action flick.
Matt Damon is a factory worker on Earth who used to be Nicolas Cage from Gone in 60 Seconds (so it is implied), but he’s gone straight trying to make enough money to make it up to Elysium, where all the rich people live. Rich people evidently live forever and can overcome any ailment including a grenade to the face (but perhaps not a throat slit?), so after Matt Damon gets fully radiated he wants some of the good stuff. Now he endeavors on a terrorist pursuit to save himself and coincidentally his childhood love gets involved and needs her daughter cured.
The plot goes on as you might expect. Sharlto Copley (protagonist from District 9) plays the primary villain while Jodie Foster plays the aloof in space villain. Copley puts a lot of heart in the performance but it would be kind of nice if his accent wasn’t quite so harsh. Jodie Foster is one of the 2 or 3 best living actresses but they just didn’t give her a very interesting role to play to display her considerable talents. The supporting cast is reasonably solid, including the chief terrorist guy who is simultaneously humorous and weird while seemingly being the only character with any non-selfish motivations.
This movie has an incredible level of attention to detail which I appreciate very much. In one scene Matt Damon fires a future-y Rail Gun through a wall which is displayed on screen impressively, immediately following this in about 1-2 seconds he discards the emptied first gun and acquires another from the wall. The camera doesn’t highlight this or anything but it seamlessly explains where he got his new gun without dumbing it down to the audience; that sort of thing is very rare in action movies.
Overall the action uses quite a few different techniques including the dreaded shaky cam, however it is comprehensible shaky cam, it isn’t like the first Expendables movie or the Bourne Movies; you can for the most part tell what is going on and the superb sound design helps greatly in that regard. This movie is good, and it couldn’t really have been better without a serious redesign of the plot and characters; it is basically as good as the movie could get within the constraints it had to work with.
Edit: Woops forgot one of my main points: The main character in Elysium becomes "superpowered" without becoming a superhero; he's still vulnerable and human in the process. If you compare this to something like Drive (a movie with much better acting/music/script) there the hero becomes completely invincible to the point of it being absurd and even though Elysium has a similar level of shock-violence you never feel absolutely secure of some magical heroic victory at the end.