I really enjoyed director Neill Blomkamp’s debut sci-fi movie, “District 9” in 2009.
It did a great job of embedding social commentary beneath the surface of a sci-fi action flick, finding time to suggest that Racism Is A Bad Idea whilst also not forgetting that we were probably watching the film to see cardboard cut-out bad guys get satisfyingly splattered by big ass alien weaponry.
It was cheap as chips, knew that it was a genre movie and wasn’t afraid to have an idea or two – “District 9” was a rather wonderful piece of filmic sci-fi.
Expectations, then, were high for Blomkamp’s follow-up, the Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley starring “Elysium”.
It’s a tale of haves and have-nots on a suitably epic scale, with Moneybags One Percenters in the far future having left a polluted and overpopulated Earth to the empty-pocketed masses and fetched up on Elysium, an orbital gated community-cum-gated community where tasteful, monied excess is the order of the day and all diseases are cured by magical space technology.
On Earth, former crook-going-straight Max (Matt Damon) is having a much scabbier time – when he’s not being brutalised by the no-tolerance police droids which he helps to build in William Fichtner’s factory, he’s getting horrifyingly irradiated in an industrial accident which gives him five days to live. His one hope is, yes, an illicit run to Elysium on a shuttle which will probably be shot down by Jodie Foster’s head of security.
This is, as you might have gathered, a less than subtle and occasionally ham-handed “District 9” follow-up from Blomkamp, which at least has glorious action cinematography and genius industrial design to distract you from a screenplay which is frequently so earnest and simplistic as to make anybody with half-a-brain roll their eyes in dismay at the contrivances and technology fails evident throughout the story.
The world building is still magnificent – Blomkamp does convincing, beaten-down future settings in the style of his filmmaking forebears Ridley Scott and James Cameron and invents environments which have clearly had more consideration paid to them than the plotting of this film has.
Potential viewers of this film whose politics are right of centre are probably best advised to skip this at the cinema as the film’s wide-eyed liberal politics, nay actual socialism, will just piss them off. And I say that as a liberal soul who frequently found himself whilst watching this film wondering whether Blomkamp actually wants his viewers to take up rail guns in order to get access to the medical care which they are denied by glitzy CEOs in space Bugattis?
Damon’s good as the titular, rough-hewn hero – and he’s matched by Copley who makes a superbly hissable villain (you might need to fine tune your hearing to pay attention to his none-more-Sarf-Iffrickan accent, but it’s worth the effort). The only weak acting link in this movie, bizarrely, is Jodie Foster who appears to decided that what this movie really needed was an accent and characterisation which wanders between French diplomat, “Barefoot Contessa” tv chef Ina Garten and a minor member of the British Royal family.
It’s utterly perplexing – can we retrospectively revoke acting Oscars? Is that a thing, yet?
Nonetheless, “Elysium” is a very entertaining action movie with sufficient forward motion that it can temporarily blind you to the fact that it doesn’t really hang together when you view the plot and events therein afterwards (Brain data transfer? Surface to orbit missiles shot from a hand held rocket launcher? Changing one word in a computer code sub-routine magically reboots the global social order?).
The idea at the heart of the film – that healthcare should be free and universal – is one that I wholeheartedly agree with so it’s nicely subversive if not actually deliciously eccentric to see it form the centrepiece of a summer action blockbuster. Wonders will never cease…