District 9 filmmaker Neill Blomkamp‘s latest work, Elysium, manages to mix together topicality, high tech and loving tributes to past and recent SF works in a largely satisfying – if somewhat ham-fistedly polemic – manner.
Matt Damon‘s Max DaCosta is an ex-con in a future Los Angeles (which has deteriorated into a sprawling, predominantly Spanish-speaking favela community) who barely ekes out a living assembling multi-purpose droids for the Aerodyne company. Meanwhile, his childhood friend Frey – who has blossomed into a comely Alice Braga – works as a nurse for one of many under-staffed, run-down hospitals catering to LA’s low-income community, while raising by herself a child suffering from leukemia.
Elysium is the Promised Land which many poor Los Angelenos dream of – an orbital space station of immaculate lawns and posh mansions, where Barbie Doll-esque babes lounge by swimming pools, and all diseases are immediately diagnosed and treated in the comfort of one’s own home through devices that look like souped-up EEG machines. Academy award-winner Jodie Foster is Security Chief Delacorte, who keeps watch over Elysium, making sure that none of the Earth rabble contaminate its pristine soil; serving as her liaison Earth-side is Kruger, a loose-cannon mercenary played by District 9 star Sharlto Copley who doesn’t have any compunction firing long-range guided missiles to orbital refugee ships from a shoulder rocket launcher.
Meanwhile, a on-job accident leaves Max with a lethal dose of radiation,
giving him super-powers providing him more purpose to get into Elysium; he accepts an assignment from local crime kingpin Spider (Diego Luna) to kidnap his old Aerodyne boss and extract Elysium’s security codes from his brain (holy Neuromancer, Batman!!!). He would then fly to Elysium along with Spider and hack its security system, with Kruger hot on his tail, katana in hand.
Sounds like a plot-line from a typical PS3 shooter (then again, Blomkamp started out his directorial career with a pitch for a proposed HALO movie) but it works as a serviceable cyber punk number. Lean, mean and not too manipulatively sentimental, it somewhat reminds me of Dredd, the criminally under-rated comic-book movie reboot from late last year.
Performances are solid throughout – even Jodie Foster’s French accent isn’t as exaggerated as word-of-mouth would make you think – but Copley’s Kruger isn’t too easy to get behind as a henchman (what with the actor’s thick Afrikaner accent). Matt Damon’s physicality sells his character as Max, particularly during his showdown with Kruger within Elysium.
Some critics – professionals as well as armchair ones – have slammed the film’s apparent insensitive politics in highlighting the future of the class struggle. However, I didn’t spend Php200 on this ticket to be lectured – I did so to be entertained, which Elysium thoroughly delivers.