If you’re willing to overlook Jodie Foster’s on-again off-again (read: “bad”) British accent, there’s very little on the surface of Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi action flick Elysium to dislike. It’s his 2009 in-your-face indie alien thriller District 9 but with a bigger budget (a reported $115 million, compared to District 9’s $34 million), A-listers (Matt Damon, the afore-disparaged Foster), and no aliens.
It’s got the same calamitous-near-future backdrop, the same gruesome violence and the same allegorically minded auteur at the helm. Elysium, ultimately, may not be quite as affecting as its grim predecessor; but it’s certainly much more fun.
Matt Damon is Max, your average lovable ex-con making his way in an unrecognizable Los Angeles of 2154. Earth has been ravaged by overpopulation and socio-environmental disaster on a grand scale. The have-nots fester on earth while the haves drink champagne and powwow in French near their lagoons and manicured lawns on Elysium, a sort of inner-ring celestial suburb.
The untrumpable perk of living on Elysium is that sickness, aging, and deformity literally don’t exist. “Citizens” just hop on tanning beds and all their ailments and imperfections are eradicated. These magic beds are why a horde of underground criminals on earth keep trying to ship the enfeebled and malnourished up there in unlicensed space shuttles, to infiltrate first the atmosphere and then the weirdly unprotected residences therein and get the white-collar medical treatment with fake IDs.
Making that process extremely difficult (read: “fatal”) is Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt (Foster). She’s one cool customer who loves espressos and is furthermore hell bent on a coup, after which she intends to enforce a more militaristic Elysian regime with the help of an effete corporate arms manufacturer (William Fichtner) and a villainous sleeper agent on earth named Kruger (District 9’s Sharlto Copley, a South African Daniel Day-Lewis is ever there was one).
Back on terra firma, while working on the assembly line at a plant run by Fichtner, Max sustains a lethal dose of radiation. He’s told he has five days to live. Criminal boss “Spider” (Wagner Moura) makes a deal with Max. He’ll help him get to Elysium — and cured, presumably — if Max aids and abets in one final elaborate robbery. Max is outfitted in a primitive exoskeleton to give him strength, and a neural receptor thing (surgically implanted via whirring bone saw) to transfer data, and the rest is one long action sequence.
And it’s awesome.
On one hand, it’s much easier to get behind films like this one (original concept, characters, etc.) than it is the endless barrage of tired sequels and reboots: “I don’t know, should we take Wolverine to Egypt or something? Nah...how about someplace with more ninjas?” In Elysium, everything just feels fresh.
There’s definitely a few unanswered plot/societal questions, but Blomkamp was wise not to mire himself in over-explanation. We’ve learned before that that often just makes things more confusing. (Looking at you, Inception.) Instead, he relied on specific images and compelling characters to do the story’s heavy lifting.
And say what you will about big-budget movies, the explosions are exponentially more awesome. Blomkamp really revels in not only the texture but the symbolism of his striking visuals. Class conflict is stunningly -- and very overtly -- rendered here. Elysium is not only paradise. It’s white-flight’s terrifying logical extreme.
Blomkamp certainly knows that underneath his vivid slo-mo explosions and races-against-the- assorted-clocks, a much more profound fear seeps through: that something like this (with the exception of the magic tanning beds) could plausibly happen soon.