The story of a hero with nothing to loose but himself.
When I first saw the trailers, I thought to myself "this ought to be a fun movie, but I don't think I want to pay 10 dollars to see it in theaters." Now, being out on DvD, it finally made it's way to my home for me to check out and possibly enjoy. It's one of those movies where at first glance, you can't really find anything you don't particularly like about it yet you still feel like somehow this movie might be a let down. I'll tell you right now, I might not have wanted to spend 10 bucks at the theater to see it, but between exoskeleton fun and some classic sci-fi staples present me might have a word to say with past me.
The story of Elysium is straight forward when it comes to it's multiple plots. The Earth has become a rather over-populated place, and in turn it's getting a little brown from orbit. LA (where a good portion of this exists) looks much like a slum or ghetto one would expect to see somewhere in South America with it's tightly packed building-shanties and rather vast amount of sand. As such, all the rich political types built themselves a ring-world to live on and named it Elysium, where the air is great, the view is wonderful, the medicine is downright magical, and immigration laws are enforced via rocket-launchers.
Worker Max (Matt Damon) is trying to be a good fellow after years of getting in trouble with the law. Some of his decision may be from the rather no-sass automated security forces who can't distinguish a joke from a serious threat (but will break your arm for it anyways), or his legitimate desire to make it up to Elysium some day (in a manner that might not involve getting rocketed out of the sky). He runs into an old friend named Frey (Alice Braga) at the hospital (that part about breaking your arm I just mentioned was a literal example), whom the movie has already set up as a romantic interest from back when they where wee kiddos. It's about this time in his life that things start getting hectic for poor Max.
The next day at work, a door to furnace where the robots built on the assembly line are given a nice radiation bath malfunctions and his supervisor tells Max to go in and fix the problem or he's out a job. This ends poorly for Max when the door closes and locks him in for a full dose. With only 5 days to live, Max finds the need to get to Elysium a little more pressing, to the extent where he would do anything to get there. This ends up getting more complicated by the political Coup d'etat on Elysium that Max gets up in, resulting in a squad of special sleeper agents led by Kruger (Sharlto Copley) being dispatched to deal with him. From here on in, the action gets fast and furious and at times flat out brutal.
So I could waste time talking about how the movie actually puts out the idea of the good of the many over the few, some classic greek hero structure, a minor spat about morals, the rift between the "haves" and "have-nots" and all that manner of thing. I could elaborate on these things, and how I feel about them, but I really can't. Why? Simple: I was just too darn excited over all the action and science fiction stuff thrown on the screen! By now we have all heard me state that I tend to enjoy practical over CG, but in this case those robot drones on the security forces could very well be one of my favorite parts of the flick. Sure, Kruger makes a great "bad guy" and Damon in his exoskeleton suit is the center of the plot, but when you see the escort drones with their gold plating something makes you really, really want one. The action helps keep the pacing of the movie pretty steady once it starts to happen, and it lends to the entire movie feeling like it's driven by purpose.
A lot of the elements in this one could almost be argued to be hard sci fi, in the sense that a good portion of this stuff is at least in some portions legitimate science - walking drones are something that's already been played around with in modern times, the idea behind how a ring world works has been explained by science, and even exo-suits exist that help boost the users load bearing capacity pneumatically. Really, the only thing in this movie that seems rather impossible is the miracle beds on Elysium that can hear anything (literally anything) from wrinkles to half your face missing from a grenade, as long as you somehow are still not dead from that. The weaponry all acts in manners similar to how they do now (down to that modified AK having some jamming issues from the modified rounds), with the only real "future tech" style of gun used a few times in the very end of the movie and Kruger's fun little energy shield.
As stated before, the plot is actually there on multiple levels, and yet for I'd rather just keep watching everything that's going on on-screen then think heavy on the plot, because it's just a fun action ride. Some twists and turns crop up to try and keep you on your feet, and by the time they happen you aren't really sure if you knew it was coming simply because it's so easy to just stay in the moment of what's happening. Audio lines are delivered well, giving you a good feel for the characters (Kruger is, I'm pretty sure, identifiably crazy just by listening to the him). The plot can feel rather generic in sections if you focus on it enough, and there feels like there is an attention to detail given to both the audio and visual aspects. Something breaks that's pneumatic and we see the liquid spraying out of it, likewise a small device activates, and we here the little beep queue of it priming to do what it does.
With all that complementary action, I can still tell you that it's not for everybody. Those opposed to violence won't want to watch given the surprising level of human on human action (given the robotic security forces), and some may very well find the surgery scene when Max gets his exoskeleton bolted into his bones rather cringe-worthy. Language can be harsh at times as well, and there's a surprising amount of the movie subtitled when characters are speaking foreign languages (such as spanish and I believe french). The romance side of things never ends up feeling fully fleshed out, but at the same time it helps the romance aspect from feeling entirely out of place, and by the end of the movie even a lot of the small details end up coming full circle. Overall, the movie is a complete story that works a lot like a good thrill ride - it gives you everything you need to be able to enjoy it, and paces it at a manner that gives you just long enough to appreciate what's going on on screen.