by George Wolf
Already this summer, a futuristic Earth in decline has had to deal with Tom Cruise and the team of Will Smith and son. Now it’s Matt Damon’s turn, but after a strong setup, Elysium finishes with mixed results.
Writer/director Neil Blomkamp , the visionary behind 2009’s excellent District 9 , again crafts a futureworld that seems perfectly logical. It is 2154, and wealth inequality has finally led to complete segregation. The rich have fled Earth for Elysium, a man-made environment offering a pristine lifestyle free of overpopulation, disease, and the inconvenience of dealing with “non-citizens.” The poor masses stay behind, kept in check by Homeland security and its team of droids.
One of those left behind is Max (Damon, solid as always), an ex- con working in the droid factory. A tragic turn of events leaves him the perfect candidate to undertake a dangerous mission cooked up by the leaders of Earth’s rebellion, and in short order he becomes half Damon, half Ironman, battling assassins under orders from Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster, laying it on a bit thick).
The parallels to current events are frequent and unmistakeable. From Occupy Wall Street to Obamacare, from Blackwater to immigration reform, Elysium will no doubt provide easy targets for “Hollywood Elite” finger pointing. Truth is, these are some of the same basic tenants Blomkamp explored in District 9, but this time he can’t find a subtle way out.
The visuals are impressive and the premise is well set, as Blomkamp again displays solid storytelling skills and a good grasp on pacing. Things break down when contrivance sets in (to guard against spoilers, that’s all I’ll say) and the film forgoes larger questions for easy, feel good answers.
It’s disappointing, because Blomkamp was on to something. Still, there are tense, exciting moments (with a bit of grisly violence), and, though it remains conflicted, enough smarts in Elysium to keep faith in Blomkamp as a leader in the future of science fiction.