If we make any more movies about a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, I’m pretty sure it’s going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and the future is going to suck. Having said that, I’ll let Neil Blomkamp make as many of these films as he wants as long as he can improve upon what he’s done with “Elysium,” which is pretty good.
Matt Damon plays Max, who we first meet as a little boy living in an orphanage on an Earth that’s become one big ghetto. Max gazes to the sky at Elysium – a space station inhabited by the wealthy who abandoned their polluted home planet for the manufactured atmosphere and cookie-cutter mansions of this sparkling orbital suburb, with nary a strip mall in sight. Replete with its own defense system to ward off any “illegals” from Earth, every citizen of Elysium also possesses a machine that can cure all diseases.
Then it’s 2154, and Max is an adult ex-con with a long rap sheet living in the Los Angeles section of our future Earth ghetto. Future L.A., like the rest of the world, is a police state, patrolled by robot cops that know everything about you. On one particular day, Max decides to crack wise to a cop whose cyber mind doesn’t appreciate Max’s tone. It doesn’t work out well for Max, who’s sent to see his parole officer. The parole office resembles the worst DMV you’ve ever been to, only 1,000 times worse than that. Max’s parole officer is a robot resembling the spawn of a crash test dummy and the dummies they use to teach CPR. It’s both the funniest scene in the film and the moment that Max wins us over.
Max hasn’t won over his boss, though, at the plant that manufactures those police robots. Our hero gets a bad case of radiation poisoning and is given just five days to live. The only way to save his life is to get to Elysium and use one of those disease-curing machines. But how? Space trip!
To get him to Elysium, Max turns to the thugs he used to run with before his last stint in prison. You have to appreciate how Blomkamp imagines these future delinquents. They’re high-tech, capable of downloading information from somebody’s brain and uploading it into another. These tatted-up gang-bangers can, literally, perform surgery, program computers and pilot spaceships. They suit up Max with a cybernetic exoskeleton wired right into his brain, technology that they say can not only get him onto Elysium, but can also finally even the score between the Elysium haves and the Earth-bound have-nots.
Standing in Max’s way is Jodie Foster’s Secretary Delacourt, Elysium’s secretary of defense, who relishes blasting out of the sky any Earth dwellers who try to sneak onto her space station. “District 9″ star Sharlto Copley plays her right-hand man, a psychotic sleeper agent named Kruger, who is fairly terrifying.
Blomkamp goes full-throttle in Elysium with the socio-political metaphors. Immigration, class warfare, welfare, medical insurance, privacy, entitlement – you name it and you’ll find it here. Blomkamp’s imagination may be his best asset but in the case of Elysium, it’s also his worst enemy. He gets so bogged down with the stunning – and they are stunning – details of the universe he’s created, and the message he’s trying to convey, that he neglects certain aspects of the story, some of which are just silly. I found it hilarious that his characters, 140 years in the future, are still exclaiming, “That s**t is tight!” and “That’s what I’m talking about!” I’m not saying it’s not possible, I’m just saying that Blomkamp could’ve been more creative.
Even though it’s flawed, “Elysium” is plenty entertaining and should delight most sci-fi fans. Blomkamp’s best work is ahead of him.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.