It’s never easy making the transition from surprise left field hit (i.e. District 9) to big budget Hollywood movie, with well known star (i.e. Matt Damon), but director Neill Blompkamp has made a pretty decent fist of it. As big budget post-apocalyptic sci fi movies go (i.e. Oblivion, After Earth), this is well above average.
Using much the same outline idea as in District 9, Blomkamp gives us a future world (2154), where the rich and successful have fled from the crumbling ruin that is Planet Earth and now live in Elysium, which revolves elegantly in the sky, but remains an unattainable dream for everyone who’s been left behind. Max (Matt Damon) an orphan who has grown up in the Hispanic slums of L.A., has left his criminal past behind (though not his criminal friends). He works in a factory making robots, and tries to keep his head down, but still manages to fall foul of the authorities, who are nearly all in the form of corporate robots, who have no sense of humour and no sense of perspective. Just the rules.
However, there are a number of human villains. First there is Jodie Foster, who is in charge of defending Elysium, a job which she takes very seriously, including shooting down unauthorised shuttles attempting to land (intentional shades of third world refugees drowning on boats off the coasts of the countries they are trying to reach). Then there is her unwilling ally William Fichtner (currently villain of the month with a much grubbier appearance in The Lone Ranger), who is in charge of the factory where Damon works, and who has crucial information downloaded into his brain. Finally, we have Sharlto Copley, the main character in District 9, and here playing the uber-baddie, who wipes out Foster’s enemies, and enjoys himself while he does so.
Max – Damon’s character – has always dreamed of making it to Elysium, but now has a more pressing need, given that he been radiated at work, and has been given five days to life. Among its other attractions, Elysium has a piece of equipment looking like a tanning bed, where you lie down, and all illnesses and injuries are wiped out. Cool or what. So the main thrust of the story is Matt/Max trying to make it to Elysium along with his childhood sweetheart Frey (Alice Braga) and her moppet of a daughter who has leaukaemia.
Ageist footnote; despite Damon and Braga’s childhood equivalents being the same age, Braga is over 10 years younger than Damon. God forbid he should be in love with a woman the same age.
Moving on again, Elysium is a lot more fun and intelligent than its summer competitors mentioned above. It doesn’t suffer from the presence of Will Smith or Tom Cruise, because Damon is better equipped to play an ordinary guy than any other major film star. The production design is wonderful. Earth looks fantastically seedy, while Elysium is gorgeously bland and lifeless. Although there are numerous plot holes, especially as the film gets closer to the end, we are spared excessive amounts of shooting and fighting, and there is at least the glimmer of a political sub text which feels hypothetically plausible. In a summer where there isn’t a lot to get excited about, this is a lot better than most of its competitors.
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