The summer of 2013 hasn’t been good to Sony Pictures. The heavily-promoted Will and Jaden Smith vehicle, After Earth, went down in flames, and seeming box-office gold Channing Tatum proved he can strike a tin note with White House Down. Now, the word is the studio’s looking to the Matt Damon-led sci-fi film Elysium to turn its balance sheet around. Unless audiences are completely taken in by a marketing campaign that promises innovative, space-age storytelling when the film delivers little more than been-there-done-that agenda grinding, Sony will likely have to keep looking.
“Our movie is a political statement,” Sharlto Copley, one of the stars, recently told The New York Times, which should tell you exactly how entertaining it is.
Damon plays a futuristic have-not in a Los Angeles that looks like a third-world nation (okay, so maybe the premise isn’t all that far-fetched). Jodi Foster is the have who lives on Elysium, a glorified space station of mansions, manicured lawns, and miraculous medical equipment that can cure everything from leukemia to a half-exploded head. Naturally, Foster and her wealthy ilk jealously guard their galactic habitat and are happy to resort to mass murder if it means keeping sick, illegal trespassers off it. Such a progressive theme alone might not be enough to earn the movie an eye roll, but the cartoonish, Occupy-poster dialogue confirms it is.
If writer/director Neill Blomkamp had gone for a PG-13 rating, Elysium might have had a chance at bringing Sony the big win it so desperately needs. Instead, heavy doses of foul language and one particularly bloody scene secured the film an R that’s likely to keep many potential viewers away. Add to that messaging so heavy-handed (to wit, Elysium looks like a gigantic, glittering Mercedes-Benz hubcap) even those who support universalized healthcare and open borders are liable to find it exasperating, and it’s hard to see how Elysium can manage more than middling box office returns.