"Elysium," the dystopian thriller that mixes summer blockbuster CGI effects with a heavy-handed message about class inequality, starred Matt Damon but nearly casted Eminem in the lead role. The rapper turned the role down, and now that the sci-fi- thriller has been released, critics are divided on whether the film accomplished its main goal— entertaining the audience.
"Elysium" director Neill Blomkamp envisioned the thriller initially being a low-budget film and approached South African rapper Ninja for the project. However, the 38-year-old turned the role down because he didn't want his first role to be playing an American character, and Blomkamp turned to Em, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, for the role.
Eminem was to play Max, a 2154 factory worker who gets infected with poisonous radiation and decides to break into Elysium— a luxurious space station where the wealthy live with excellent medical care— to save his own life. The Michigan-born rapper wanted the movie to be shot in Detroit though, and because that didn't happen, Blomkamp had to move on to Matt Damon.
"That's true," Damon told Variety when asked about the reports. "Probably half the movies I do have somebody else's fingerprints on them. It's the nature of the business. I've passed on things other actors have taken."
Now critics are weighing in on the "District 9" director's second effort, with many lauding the sprawling degradation of Earth juxtaposed with the airy exclusivity of the space station, which shows a human race divided.
"Few mainstream moviemakers have painted as sprawling and densely detailed a portrait of humanity in extremis as Blomkamp does here," Soren Anderson wrote for The Seattle Times.
"As he proved with his last film, Blomkamp certainly has a firm grip on handling the gritty action sequences," Jim Judy added for Screen It! referring to the challenges of filming Damon's fights while he wore a futuristic exo-suit.
Still, other critics lambasted the blatancy with which the message was handled: many audiences could easily draw the connection between the lack of healthcare for the filthy denizens of future Earth and the Obamacare controversy going on today.
"Elysium spends so much time showing and telling us why closed borders and restricted access to healthcare are bad news that there's little beyond those issues and no characters— including Max— really worth rooting for," wrote Angela Watercutter for Wired.com.
"It's like one of those bad 'Star Trek' episodes, when Gene Roddenberry stopped everything on the bridge so he could lecture us about the Cold War," Stephen Whitty agreed in The Newark Star-Ledger.
Despite mixed reviews from critics and negative reactions from conservatives— many of them felt the film promoted the positives of socialized healthcare— audiences seemed to enjoy it. 77 percent of moviegoers liked the film and 66 percent of critics did as well, according to RottenTomatoes.com.