Neill Blomkamp gave the sci-fi action movie a raw, socially relevant edge with his directorial debut District 9, set in a dusty illegal ‘alien’ camp in South Africa.
On similar themes of stark us-and-them social divisions – but with a bigger budget and Hollywood lead (Matt Damon) – comes the visually stunning Elysium.
Mexico City’s largest slum stands in for a grim 22nd century Los Angeles, where the poor struggle to survive amid the garbage, while the rich have fled to a giant luxury space station.
Blomkamp’s inspirations include Robocop and Aliens, and you can see this in the scary robot police who keep the downtrodden humans in line.
Damon plays a factory worker who builds these very machines, while turning to crime to fund his hoped-for flight to the privileged world above.
After a radiation accident leaves him with just five days to live, he turns to a gangster for help and kidnaps a businessman to get himself into Elysium, where he can be cured.
The story speaks to our times, but is a familiar dystopian set-up, with a cocooned elite with access to superior technology living high above the miserable masses.
The floating disc world of golf courses and swimming pools is something to behold.
Jodie Foster plays Elysium’s stiff and ruthless secretary of defence who blasts illegal immigrants out of the sky, but can’t seem to decide if she’s English, French or something else. She unleashes foul-mouthed arch mercenary Sharlto Copley to kill off Damon.
Blomkamp’s vision of the future is boldly brilliant, but as the story unfolds, we move towards a predictable conclusion of big guns blasting, and you could be in any action film. The plot doesn’t always make sense, and the climax consists of a long, noisy series of explosions and chase scenes. Still, Damon brings some gravitas to his working-class hero act.
Review by Joe Gill