Elysium has been described in some circles as the last of the summer’s big-budget blockbusters. But that might just be a case of dangerous mis-selling, writes Carl Jones.
This is no family-friendly piece of popcorn fodder. It’s a serious, intense, and pretty darned brutal sci-fi drama which is awash with guns, gizmos and gritty effects.
Director Neill Blomkamp doesn’t let the digital magicians entirely swamp his actors, though, and Matt Damon steals the show as a magnificently moody and muscular action man.
The film paints a foreboding picture of what life may be like for mere mortals in the mid 22nd century.
Earth’s atmosphere has been horribly polluted and the planet’s resources are dangerously depleted. While most of the population lives in squalor on the surface, desperately trying to forage for food and make an honest living with barely a blade of grass in sight, the wealthy and privileged enjoy luxury on a state-of-the-art space station called Elysium, which hovers a couple of miles above the earth.
The president’s no-nonsense Secretary Of Defence, Delacourt (Foster) is charged with ensuring that spaceships from Earth do not land on Elysium to take advantage of the medical bays installed in every plush home. Because on Elysium, all ailments can be cured simply by slipping into a magical pod for a few precious seconds.
Back in the slums on terra firma, meanwhile, factory worker Max DeCosta (Damon) is a former notorious criminal who is trying to go straight, despite the continuing temptations placed in his path by former partners.
After a dust-up with security forces who don’t share his cocky, dismissive sense of humour, Max is involved in an industrial accident which exposes his body to dangerous levels of radiation. Doctors tell him he’ll be dead in five days.
So, as his system shuts down, Max must find a way to breach Elysium’s defences so he can access a medical bay and banish the cancer that is ravaging his system.
He agrees to take neighbour Frey (Braga) and her terminally ill young daughter with him, but the path to Elysium is littered with obstacles including Delacourt’s favourite contract killer, a sadistic mercenary called Kruger (Copley) who is brimming with bitterness. So there’s no alternative but to return to the dark side.
If you’re familiar with Blomkamp’s previous work like the excellent, uncompromising 2009 adventure District 9, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Elysium. This is a dark, intimidating drama which benefits immensely from the another top-notch Matt Damon performance. He really is proving himself one of Hollywood’s most adaptable and fearless stars; as convincing here as the brutal anti-hero as he was opposite Michael Douglas as Liberace’s gay lover in Behind The Candelabra. Yes, he’s a rogue, but we know he’s got a soft centre, and are soon rooting for him.
Which is more than can be said for Delacourt, portrayed by Foster as a ruthless, headstrong ice-maiden with an entire chip shop on her shoulder.
Strip back all the spaceships, explosions and laser guns – of which there are plenty – and this is a simple tale of ordinary folk rising up against oppression.
Aside from a couple of cheesy flashbacks to Max’s childhood, when we learn he was an orphan brought up by nuns, Elysium doesn’t let up on the gloom. Frenetically edited, many elements are derived from other genre pieces, but it’s still an up-and-at-’em affair.
Terminator meets Blade Runner, with a spot of Total Recall thrown in for good measure.