Director Neill Blomkamp’s big screen debut, “District 9,” a mockumentary (and Best Picture nominee) that examined themes of apartheid in a sci fi context, had thrills to spare and a real beating heart.
The South African born, Vancouver-based Blomkamp brings that same kind of humanity to “Elysium,” but it doesn’t feel quite as fresh this time around. It’s exciting, has some great action and ideas and stars everybody’s boyfriend Matt Damon, but for all that, it feels much more standard than I hoped it would be.
Set in 2154, humanity has split into two sections, the 1%, who live on an Eden called Elysium that hovers high above Earth, and the 99% who toil on what’s left of our dystopian planet. The 1% have it all plus medical care that can cure any ailment in seconds.
On earth Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-thief who has always dreamed of living in Elysium and is now working a straight job in hopes of saving enough to buy a ticket. When he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation he makes a deal with crime boss (Wagner Moura) who hires him to do one last job in return for a one-way ticket to Elysium and health. In his way are Elysium’s Secretary of Defence (Jodie Foster) and a wild-eyed mercenary (Sharlto Copley).
Most of “Elysium” works well.
The set-up is interesting, even if it is reminiscent of everything from “Oblivion” and even “WALL-E.” For the first hour it does what good sci fi should do, comment on the human condition. The speculative elements of the story serve as a backdrop for a story about class struggle, the will to live and the primal nature of power struggles. For sixty minutes Blomkamp and company mix and match sci fi and real human drama but in the last forty minutes “Elysium” becomes an ordinary bash-‘em-and-beat-‘em action movie with sentimental and mawkish overtones.
It’s not bad, and, in fact, by times is pretty great, just not as great as I expected.
Damon impresses. He’s believable as both the sensitive guy with a dream and the lethal, half-cyborg warrior capable of opening a can of futuristic whoop ass on everyone in his way.
Copley is entertaining, chewing through the scenery like he hasn’t eaten in a week and Jodie Foster is nicely cast as the ice cold Donald Rumsfeld style villain, but I found her perfect diction REALLY distracting. Every word she says seemed to have its own finely honed shape to the point where I almost had a hard time understanding what she was saying.
Beyond that the action scenes are frequently exciting (especially early on) and there are some crazy weapons—like the explosives that turn people into meat bombs. If only the last forty minutes lived up to the promise of the first sixty.