Cast: Matt Damon, Alice Braga, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura
Running time: 109 mins
The lowdown: Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 used a benign alien invasion for a barbed allegory on apartheid and racism, lacing the film with stunning action sequences. His follow-up feature finds him in similar allegorical mood. A class divide epic between the 1% enjoying paradise on orbiting space station Elysium and everyone else surviving on an abandoned, polluted, impoverished Earth, it retains District 9’s hard-edged grit, but lacks that film’s originality, wit and heart. Efficient and enjoyable, but not up there with the director’s Oscar nominated debut.
The full verdict: Elysium looks great. The $115m budget is up on screen, with Visual Effects Supervisor Peter Muyzers CGI-ing Vancouver into ultimate des-res Elysium and Production Designer Phil Ivey turning a large dumping ground in Mexico City into a hellish LA of 2154.
Employing the same documentary feel as District 9, this also blends live action and CGI seamlessly, with photo-realistic droids brutally keeping order and space shuttles skimming the roofs of rundown barrios or landing on perfectly manicured lawns 250 miles up.
Where the film stumbles is in telling the story, using interesting plot ideas merely to shift characters from one set-piece to another.
Damon is Max DeCosta, a one-time star criminal turned production line stiff. After evil working conditions leave him with a killer dose of radiation, his only hope is to get to Elysium where miracle medical pods cure all illness.
When a botched mind heist of a callous CEO (Fichtner) leaves Max with a head full of Elysium’s security information, hard line politician Delacourt (Foster) dispatches unhinged hitman Kruger (Copley) to silence Max and his uppity companions, including his childhood sweetheart Frey (Braga) and her terminally ill daughter.
Brimming with nice touches (French is the language of the rich, Spanish the tongue of the poor) and weaponry that packs various explosive surprises, Blomkamp’s script gets background detail spot-on.
It is with the multiple plot threads the director has trouble. Wall-E does more with its mollycoddled super rich idea than this, Elysium being barely explored. Elsewhere, an interesting coup d’état subplot is reduced to computer virus bunkum Independence Day was doing almost twenty years ago.
And despite an opening that recalls the excellent Dredd, but with a budget to go exploring, as the film progresses its focus narrows.
By the time the have-nots storm the gates of paradise Elysium has boiled down to a handful of characters engaging in familiar shoot-outs and fisticuffs, ditching political subtext in favour of a been-there-done-that race against time.
Foster’s autocrat requires scenes of not being cartoonishly evil, Damon and Braga needed an earlier quiet moment to lend heart to the third act mayhem, and Copley gamely tries to inject character into what amounts to a Bane wannabe.
Yet, a number of impressively executed set-pieces remind you this is from the D9 team.
The heist on Fichtner’s CEO is staged like Michael Mann in his Heat heyday, with Max pimped in a bio-exo skeleton that boosts his strength and keeps radiation sickness at bay. The Bourne Mechanisation if you will.
And fans of District 9’s gore will be happy with the high splatter quotient on display here.
A rare film that would benefit from being twenty minutes longer to develop its story and tidy up plot holes (why does Elysium have no defenses if it’s terrified of immigrants?), here’s hoping an extended cut lands on Blu-ray.