Director: Neill Blomkamp. Tri Star/Alpha Core/Media Rights et al (15)
Producer: Simon Kinberg
Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Camera: Trent Opaloch
Music: Ryan Amon
Sets: Philip Ivey
Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Brandon Auret, Josh Blacker, Emma Tremblay, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Faran Tahir.
In 2154, human society has been split between a select group of multi-millionaires who live in an eden-like, man-made space-ship called ‘Elysium’ and the vast majority of their poorer brethren, eking out an existence on a ruined earth. When factory worker Max (Damon) is involved in radiation accident that will kill him in five days, he sets out to do anything to get onto ‘Elysium’ where cancer can be cured. But committed security secretary Delacourt (Foster) is watching his every move from her orbital heaven.
Neill Blomkamp, all is forgiven from this critic for the slating I gave your previous Sci-Fi effort District 9 (2009). For where that film aggravated beyond belief as it’s elephantised racism story tried to crack a nut with the heftiest of hammers (obviously setting it in South Africa and having a white South African change into the hated, racial under-class citizen) Elysium has a more considered, layered and better grasp of the social justice theme that he is interested in exploring.
That’s not to say that Elysium is the high-point of science fiction narrative – there is nothing ground-breakingly new in this sub-Metropolis in outer space, but Elysium still has a few spurts of originality and a firm directorial hand on explosive action scenes to make an audience jolt and wince.
There are other similarities to District 9 – we open on a sprawling, fetid shanty town, though this time we are in Los Angeles and the shanty isn’t just reserved for South Central. Damon’s exoskeleton has shades of the one Wikers is forced to use by his horrible father in law. And, just to ice the cake, Wikers himself (Copley) appears, almost unrecognisably, as Kruger Damon’s bearded nemesis who will stop at nothing to bring him down, for extra similarity.
A buffed up Damon provides some well deserved but fleeting eye candy and certainly puts the energy and testosterone into his character, but the part is inadequately fleshed out. This is a man who has a long-standing, deeply-superficial attachment to the fabled Olympus that looks so close it almost whispers invitingly to him when he chats to a Nun in the evening. His attitude is no better than that of the sterile, champagne swilling, Stepford socialites that inhabit it have, but in time honoured Hollywood manner he comes over all ‘Earth saviour’ when the end is nigh. What evs!
Perhaps here then there are some modern parallels with the current aspirations of the working and middle classes to have some of the Paris Hilton Set’s life and money, but Blomkamp’s film does not venture here.
Far better though, but woefully under-scripted, is Foster as Delacourt the chillingly righteous, French-speaking plutocrat, eerily apeing IMF head honcho Christine Lagarde, Foster even rearranges her fringe the same way. This is the ultimate political snob, referring to immigrants in the most dehumanising of language, thereby making it easy to resort to the foulest of means to secure the future of her pure home, a galactic Hamptons if you will, twinkling in the cosmos. Actually forget Lagarde, she is more Marine Le Pen.
Of the good ideas that Blomkamp generates, the best is Damon’s exoskeleton. Be prepared for the scene where it is drilled into him – a squeamish rival to the dental torture Dustin Hoffman endured in Marathon Man (1976). This also makes it possible for him to stage some fantastic and thrilling fight scenes.
He also delivers throughout with a neat set of supporting characters led by Luna who run an underground resistance network hell bent on infiltrating the good life in the heavens. They provide a meaty and distracting catalyst to get our hero one step closer to God, but Blomkamp fails to notice he could utilise them to provide a little well needed comic relief, so the film as a whole is a little too tight-arsed and serious.