Neil Blomkamp, the man who brought us the brilliant ‘District 9’ returns to the big screen for with another political, dystopian thriller ‘Elysium’. While not as fresh and original as his tense, unrelenting (I think very few dystopian films in recent memory are as good as it) his new, violent take on the science fiction genre does satisfy, although you do leave the cinema feeling as though “it was okay, I guess…”
We kick off proceedings in the year 2154, where Earth has descended into poverty because of very third world causes: overpopulation, disease, pollution, you know the rest. Drought is also clear to see; Blomkamp starts off with devastating establishing shots of the sandy and crumbling Los Angeles area which looks more like the Mexican border. What is interesting to notice is there almost next to no blacks in the whole feature. It seems the director is moving away from his socio-political satire of apartheid and looking at a more holistic view of third world poverty.
In these slums we focus on Max (Matt Damon) who dreams of one day saving enough money to buy a ticket to Elysium; a utopian space station where the rich and powerful live far away from the distasteful conditions their poorer counterparts are forced to survive in. In Elysium there is everything, even medical pods which can erase all cells of cancer by restructuring atoms. Of course, there are always a minority of poor humans trying to illegally enter Elysium through secret shuttles and it’s up to villainess-in-chief Delacourt (Jodie Foster) to make sure these shuttles do not make that flight by using any means necessary, even those who just want free healthcare for their kids.
Now our criminal-turned-blue-collar hero (who doesn’t seem to share the same humour as the robots that police him or his automated probation officer) has a tragic accident which leaves him with only five days to live. He turns to smuggler and hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) for help. He gives it on one condition: Max hijacks information from technocrat John Carlyle (the reliable William Fichtner) through an organic brain device which could give the smugglers “keys to the f*cking kingdom” as it’s eloquently put in the film. He’s given a robot exoskeleton to help him against the androids, which at least gives him a chance against immoral covert agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
The leftist themes are pretty obvious to see. Blomkamp said in an interview that the film is about the lower class trying to get a pass into the middle and upper-class in hope of a better life. The first act shows us a savage, violent satire of how things are for the less well-off and how easy things are for the Delacourt and co; Foster’s character effortlessly moves from English to French. However what made it lack the fascination that struck me when watching ‘District 9’ was that things started getting very predictable. Foster is one-dimensional, but that’s not entirely her fault. Kruger’s battle scenes with Max just turn it into a typical ‘Everyman’s struggle to find against the odds’. Might I say that Copley, who was superb in Blomkamp’s ‘District 9’ and certainly watchable in ‘The A-Team’ is in a roll that is ill suited to him. The absorbing premise isn’t carried throughout and subsequently moviegoers have to settle for a shoot ‘em up finale. Now I’m not saying that makes the film terrible, it wasn’t half bad and naturally Damon is the right guy to bring great human weight to a role such as Max, but if I know a director as talented as Blomkamp (nominated for four Oscars) can give me caviar, I’ll obviously be disappointed when he serves up sausages from Sainsbury’s, even if they are Taste the Difference.
All in all, Elysium is a movie of ideas and it’s pretty watchable if you handle the raw violence of it all. Although not quite good as ‘District 9, it still brings up enough questions to make it a little thought provoking. Not to mention Matt Damon rarely lets you down as a leading man.