Edelstein on "Elysium" and our obsession with apocalypse

(CBS News) There seems to be no end to end-of-civilization movies. David Edelstein reviews the latest:

Much of "Elysium" is set in 2154 on a ruined Earth, and isn't it weird how in every other would-be blockbuster this year, the planet is dead or being demolished?

"Oblivion," "After Earth," "Pacific Rim," "Man of Steel" . . . why are we so obsessed with apocalypse? You'd think there was catastrophic climate change or something!

But seriously, it's part realistic anxiety, part Hollywood economics.

It's pretty easy to destroy a world that only exists inside a computer. Plus, most studio profits now come from overseas, and in places like China -- soon to be the number one market -- they LOVE watching stuff go boom!

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"Elysium" is more than stuff going boom. Not that much more, but it does begin with a good, angry, satirical premise.

Earth has been polluted to the point where the rich have left for Elysium, a sort of super-space-station hovering in orbit -- a paradise of manicured lawns, pools, robot servants, and machines that cure cancer in 15 seconds.

On Earth, the plebes in their dirty shantytowns look at Elysium like the brass ring on an old merry-go-round.

A ruined Earth in the year 2154, as presaged by the dystopian thriller, "Elysium."
Sony Pictures

Matt Damon is the luckless parolee who dreams of seizing that ring. But the richies in the sky don't take kindly to illegal immigrants.

Witness Jodie Foster as the ruthless defense secretary.

It must be a hard for liberal-humanists like Foster to impersonate conscience-less, xenophobic fascists. Maybe that's why her performance is so god-awful.

The writer-director is 33-year-old South African Neil Blomkamp, who made the Oscar-nominated "District 9," where apartheid was reimagined with giant shrimp from outer space.

In "Elysium," he shoots everything with a hand-held camera super-close, so when Damon is converted to a semi-cyborg and gets pummeled by fists and lethal objects, WE get pummeled by light and noise and rock-'em, sock-'em editing.

Except the parts in sloooooooooow motion.

The disintegrations are excellent. But the movie uses twisty, stylish, state-of-the-art techniques to arrive at totally predictable, melodramatic ends -- from the hero's crisis of conscience, to his face-off with a slobbering psycho, to his messianic finale.

"Elysium" delivers on its own dumb terms, but I like the satire best. Who can't identify with Damon pleading his case to a robot bureaucrat with a low threshold for insolence?

I only wish the plot didn't feel machine-tooled, as if dictated by a robot who'd been programmed by studio executives who dream of being rich -- and of living, of course, in places like Elysium.

Edelstein endorses:

  • "The Spectacular Now"
  • "Blackfish"

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To view the trailer for "Elysium," click on the video player below.