How do you get from Matt Damon playing a hispanic dude in an exo-suit to a nostalgic little tin can who just wants to know what love is? The answer, my friends, is a ton of spoilers for Elysium.
1. The World’s A Mess
Even before Elysium begins, we’ve screwed up planet Earth good and proper. The whole world’s one big slum and everyone who can afford to lives on the titular space station, an orbiting halo ring with an open-top atmosphere, the most flamboyant hair stylists money can buy and medical pods so sophisticated the crew of Prometheus would bow their heads in shame were they not so busy running away from a big halo spacesh–hmm…
Anyway, Elysium’s inhabitants don’t much like to think about Earth because it’s smelly and full of rubbish (not to mention the poor, because there’s nothing more unbecoming than being on the same celestial body as a bunch of riffraff). Sounds kind of like the beginning of Wall·E, right? Well, except for all the lousy humans. But there are robots on the ground, albeit ones with little taste for making pyramids out of rubbish. But they’ll get there. So where does everybody go to make way for that loveable little garbage can? Well, I’m glad you asked, because…
2. We’re Halfway To Space Already
Adding insult to worldwide poverty, Elysium hangs just out of reach to everyone on the planet, reminding them that impossible things can happen – just not to them – and that space technology has gotten to the point where the upper class can abandon Earth entirely if they want to (it’s not exactly clear why they orbit the planet at all other than to fire rockets at approaching poorly immigrants). They’ve clearly got things in order to such a degree that if they got sick enough of Earth and wanted to look at something that wasn’t so damn POOR all the time they could just spin off into space and get working on building a hoverchair or two. There’s not a lot else to do on Elysium – it’s a paradise for those who live on it, much like the B’n'L ship everyone lives on in Wall·E, though the latter’s more a paradise of convenience and ignorance rather than the significantly more heavy-handed Elysian fields of, er, Elysium.
3. Everything Is Controlled By Robots
Mostly because they’ve got walking tin cans to do all the gruntwork (presumably including recharging the batteries of the magic healing box that can cure cancer in four seconds). Automatons are already clearing up the trash in Elysium, though it’s a distinctly human kind of garbage as designated by the 1% in the sky, and since the world is severely overpopulated the copbots have their hands full enacting police brutality and piloting other machines to think about taking out the empty pizza boxes and beer cans every Thursday.
There’s not a lot of focus on the artificial intelligence of said robots except when relevant for plot purposes, but their loyalties seem pretty malleable depending on what tiny lines of code are entered into a reboot program, something which could either be abused or ignored and left to fester. Hell, when the robots’ rewritten orders hit the airwaves they just do their own thing anyway, sending rescue airlifts to the surface with nary a word of “yeah, you should go do that” from their human overlords. It’s a small step from there to the Hal-esque Ship Computer of Wall·E deciding what is and isn’t the best way to protect its fleshy charges. It’s not like they were very good at doing that for themselves, was it?
4. Giant Corporations Are The Last Vestiges Of Human Governance
Just like in Wall·E, there’s no government to speak of left on Earth other than robot-(and weapon-) building conglomerates – as represented by William Fichtner’s callous businessman – that think as little to preserving life as Fred Willard’s Buy’n'Large CEO does to recycling. If everyone started getting along, however, there’d be no need for massive rocket launchers or dickhead robots and we could focus on keeping everyone in fried goods and digital entertainment ’til the cows stop being extinct (I’m assuming the meat that Sharlto Copley’s barbecuing on his shanty roof is from a couple of those fookin’ Prawns that kept going through his rubbish).
Okay, so there’s kind of a council-type thing on Elysium itself, but it’s not clear what their purpose is other than to give Jodie Foster a good telling-off before being ousted in a military coup and returning at the end of the movie only only to have their positions made moot by the proletariat masses. I’m sure they’ll pick up some sweet executive job at a corporation – hey, Bill Fichtner just lost his job as boss of the robot plant! Now all they need is a reason to stop hanging around this dump of a world once and for all…
5. Everybody Leaves Earth And No-one Picks Up Their Trash On The Way Out
So Matt Damon heroically sacrifices himself and reboots the system, meaning everyone on Earth is now a legal citizen of Elysium and can receive treatment for theoretically any possible ailment barring the destruction of the brain (the idea that the humanity of 2157 hasn’t survived its own apocalypse but merely become, yes, zombies isn’t a subtle one, but it does rather gel with the inhabitants of Wall·E’s ship’s mindless consumption of food and entertainment). Sounds great right up until you realise that the world’s slightly bigger than Los Angeles and once everyone gets to the newly democratised (we assume) Elysium no-one’s going to want to go back to Slumworld and get sick all over again. And once everybody’s there they’ll have no-one to visit on Earth or make creepy radiation-bots anymore, so why even bother orbiting the smelly old world anyway? The station clearly has an ecosystem and atmosphere enough to support life, so all humanity needs to do is build a few extensions, get a couple of extra thrusters and a fresh lick of paint on the ship’s A.I. – maybe from their local Buy’n'Large – and they’ll be well on their way to getting spherical in no time.
It would be kind of a shame to just let Earth go to waste like that, though, so the new Elysium council decide to leave a few older-model cleanup robots on the ground to spruce things up a bit if anyone gets homesick…and that’s where our chirpy little friend comes in. Frankly, I bet Wall·E’s glad to get away from all those violent humans and their incomprehensible political struggles and really get to work on his collection of trinkets and Ginger Rogers movies.
So there you have it – an evening well spent and the groundwork for crossover blockbuster magic. You’re welcome, Hollywood. I look forward to Wall·Ysium with intense anticipation and a song in my heart.