In 2154 Earth has all been used up, resources are scarce and those people that remain, scratch out a hard-scrabble existence in a apocalyptic type world. All the while they gaze enviously at “Elysium”, the utopia built in space above their heads.
Eylsium is the flip-side of Earth, everything is plentiful, order reigns and the rich get to live out their fantasies. They also have access to medical treatment, able to cure any illness after a quick scan in a tanning bed type device.
Back on Earth, “Max” (Matt Damon) is a low level assembly line worker, tasked with helping to create robot policemen or peace keepers. Following an industrial accident, his options shrink further and his long standing desire to move to Elysium becomes a necessity. How he achieves this and the help he receives, is the subject of the story line. Ultimately he becomes an enhanced warrior, “Robocop” lite without the police badge.
As can be imagined, the queue of people wanting to escape to this rotating dream in the sky, is long and varied. Meanwhile Elysium’s ambitious Defence secretary “Delacourt” (Jodie Foster) main task is to try to ensure that dream is not shattered by untidy, dirty immigrants destroying the idyllic setting. Instead of “boat people” think “shuttle people”. Delacourt is zealous in this task, taking steps outside of her remit, angering the more liberal president President Patel (Faran Tahir).
Of course no story like this would be complete without a greedy corporate arms conglomerate. On this occasion run by John Carlyle (William Fitchner) in his Bugatti Veyron badged shuttle craft. Carlyle worries more about contracts and performance targets than employees getting irradiated, after all there are plenty more to replace Max in this much sought after position.
Added to the mix is a rather bizarre bounty hunter “Kruger” (Sharlto Copley) who completes the “wet work” occasionally required when the Elysium President is too squeamish to deal with issues. Complete with his default South African accent, Copley cuts a swath and delights in gruesome deaths as he completes Delacourt’s bidding.
Director Neill Blomkamp, famous for his relatively low budget but innovative and impressive “District 9”, has a much starrier cast and a bigger budget to play with this time round. His earlier breakout film had obvious parallels with apartheid, this film tackles even larger themes, rich and poor and entitlement to health care.
Where District 9 had humour and a clear sense of right and wrong, this story is more confused. Effectively attempting to explore the complex area of immigration via a big budget sc-fi film is a risk and on this occasion, not entirely successful.
The plot is simple yet manages to be confusing, the motivations of the characters, especially Copleys “Kruger” is difficult to understand. His character takes centre stage and turns the action into yet another “mano et mano” slugfest, something this story was never about.
Damon is as effective as ever but he appears exposed in his exoskeleteon on occasion. With Foster getting little screen time, we are left with a poor mish mash of ideas, which do not come together in a cohesive whole. Unfortunately, blame must lie with Director and writer Blomkamp and represents an opportunity missed. Lets hope he is more on track with his next venture, “Chappie”.
The effects are good without being state of the art but the story continually gets in the way. If the director wished to explore these themes, a much more thoughtful less action packed film would have proved more suitable. The film is also quite gratuitously violent, whereas in District 9 this was played for laughs, here much of the gore appears sadistic and unnecessary.
A disappointing film from a director many had high hopes for, following his excellent calling card “District 9”
Certainly watchable and on occasion interesting but more for what the film might have been, rather than what is actually on the screen.