By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington on Movies: Elysium
ELYSIUM (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Neill Blomkamp (2013)
Elysium, a big moneymaker this weekend, is another visually stunning dystopian science fiction movie nightmare in the Blade Runner mode, this one starring Matt Damon as a good outlaw and Jodie Foster as an evil government leader. In it, we are shown a future world where things have gone to hell and are about to get worse (maybe), due to the devastating consequences of greed, violence, brutality, authoritarian government, social and racial prejudice, and the insane selfishness of that era‘s one-percenters. It’s our world, of course, taken to extremes, Philip K. Dick or Robert Heinlein style.
Damon, exuding his usual boyish good-guy heroism, plays prison parolee and factory worker Max Da Costa, who lives in the Los Angeles barrio of 2154, a world that suggests a mix of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Fernando Meirelles’ and Katia Lund’s City of God. In the course of Elysium, Damon tries to save that world (or at least the people condemned to live on it—and himself, and the movie). It’s the second feature from the South African-born visual effects ace, Neill Blomkamp—whose District 9 (2009), was one of the more horrific and visually venturesome sci-fi shows of the past decade.
Damon plays Max Da Costa, an unjustly convicted prison parolee who works in a robot factory in 2154, on the ecologically blighted Earth, whose selfish leaders have escaped the world their spiritual-financial ancestors turned into an urban, polluted hell, left it to the underclass like Max and his largely Spanish-speaking fellow citizens and long since fled to the space station paradise of Elysium, hideaway of that era’s one-percenters. It‘s a place where the lawns are manicured, the languages are English and French, where universal healthcare through super-technology is a right of the rich, and where the rulers, like Jodie Foster’s Secretary Delacourt, don’t give a damn about the poor or disadvantaged, or Max, or you, or me.
Max, who’s trying to go straight (in that violent Los Angeles of the 22nd century), gets a lethal dose of radiation poisoning thanks to his robot factory boss, who shoves him into a contaminated locker—and, as Max faces and races against his own death (like Edmond O’Brien in D. O. A.), he is forced to turn outlaw, to take up an offer of illegal and dangerous unemployment from his crook friend Julio (Diego Luna), and Julio’s smuggler-boss Spider (Wagner Moura). His mission: extract a lot of precious info from the mind of duplicitous robot manufacturer John Carlyle (the magnificently sleazy-acting William Fichtner).
Running against the big clock, Max also tries to crack the defensive barrier around Elysium, to gain access to the insta-cure universal health care technology available to the rich, but not the poor. (Apparently the Republicans prevailed in the health care battles back in the twenty-first century and this is the result.) Among the combatants and villains arrayed against Max, are the incomprehensible maniac head thug Kruger (Sharlto Copley, also of District 9), and Secretary Delacourt, a role in which Jodie Foster gets to dress straight and be tough, mean and snobbish. Actually, Foster may not be the most convincing pick for this part. (She’s too inherently nice.) But Damon is still one of the better populist heroes. As for the sadistic killer played by Copley, I couldn’t understand a word he said, except for the occasional “fuck.”
It’s not a bad story, and it’s set in pungent, polluted or contrastingly Kubrick-clean backdrops that mix the real (Mexico City standing in for L.A.), the unreal (the space station) and the surreal (those hints of Metropolis and nightmare). It also has—probably courtesy of progressives Damon and Foster as well as writer-director Blomkamp—some rousing preachments and stinging political themes.
The movie’s biggest problem, and this is a congenital defect of many contemporary action shows, is that there’s too much bang, and not enough drama. The beginning, where Blomkamp’s world is being set up, and we get to know Max, his childhood girlfriend Frey (Alice Braga), and the rest of the characters, is the best part of Elysium. If it had continued in that vein, or at least had a better balance of thrills and humanity, Elysium would have been far more affecting, far more moving and exciting, and a much better film. But I realize I’m becoming repetitive and predictable. So are the movies that inspire it—including, unfortunately, Elysium.