Movie review: Elysium

Review Science fiction/Action
109 minutes/Opens on 15th August/Rating: 3/5

The story: In the near future, humans have laid waste to the Earth. While the poor scratch out a miserable living on its surface, the rich have moved to the Elysium space station, where they live like gods. Elysium's Secretary Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) uses hitman Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to shoot down ships bearing illegal migrants. Factory worker Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is the victim of an industrial accident in a robot factory run by Carlyle (William Fichtner) and must find a way to infiltrate the station so he can use a Med-Pod to heal himself.

The best way to ruin a good low-budget film-maker is to offer a big budget, so they say, and this film proves that statement to be true. Weighed down by too much plot and portentousness, this has little of cheekiness of writer-director Neill Blomkamp's District 9 (2009), a lowbudget work that has become a cult hit.

District 9 was an allegory about racism dressed up as an alien invasion movie and was as much driven by interesting characters and a crackingly inventive story as it was by action.

Like District 9, Elysium is a sci-fi popcorn flick, with a message about inequality at its heart. But this time, everything has been inflated to epic size: The shootouts and explosions are louder, the tech toys are flashier, the parallels with current social problems are made more obvious. Gravitas weighs heavy on the dialogue. And here come a couple of A-listers, Damon and Foster, to put a ribbon on the whole big studio package.

The mostly brown and Hispanic poor (save for the oddly Anglo-Saxon Damon who plays their saviour) are feisty and soulful. The rich, embodied by chief executive Carlyle (Fichtner, an actor who has built a career playing wealthy scumbags), are the opposite. For a heavy-handed message movie about corrupt one percenters literally living in the heavens while the innocent fester down below, this work gets a lot of things right. The planet does look like a sprawling South American shantytown. It is a dystopia that looks properly dystopic, unlike recent films set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which squalor is signified by slightly soiled clothing and a greyish-blue palette.

It also does that daring thing of setting the story in 2154, the near future, rather than further in time. This makes the events more relatable, but it also constrains the action, eliminating the use of plot devices such as time travel or teleportation. But for the sake of a neatly tied-up morality lesson, Blomkamp strains the logic of his world almost to breaking point - why would human labour be needed to build highly intelligent robots? There are enough internal contradictions here to start a dozen geeky forum threads.

Like the floating city, this movie spins non-stop, propelling Max the hero from one sticky situation to another. Without that velocity of plot, the audience might just drift away.


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