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Not too subtle on politics

DIRECTED BY: Neill Blomkamp
STARRING: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga
WELL, here we go again. It’s the future. As usual, it’s dystopian. I suppose you could say it’s post-apocalyptic, if massive pollution and over-population count as an apocalypse.

The year is 2154 and the earth is banjaxed. Its poor inhabitants eke out a harsh, miserable existence in the global slums, shaking their fists at the sky and with good enough reason.

The wealthy have fled the planet, making a luxurious home for themselves aboard a wheel-shaped space station just above the earth, a mere 20-minute journey by shuttle. So close, yet forever out of reach of the masses.

Not that some don’t give it a shot. Occasionally, a shuttle of ‘illegals’ will chance the short trip, only to blown out of the sky, or immediately deported if they do manage to land. Director Neill Blomkamp could never be accused of being too subtle in his politics.

Max (Damon) is an ex-con trying to mend his ways, toiling away in Los Angeles, which is not quite the hub of glitz and glamour that it used to be. He works in a factory, building the robots that serve as the city’s police force.

An accident at work exposes Max to a massive dose of radiation, leaving him with only five days to live. Which is a handy ticking-bomb trick, one of several plot devices that make Elysium look more than a little similar to Blomkamp’s previous effort, the Oscar-nominated District 9.

Max’s only hope is to make a burst for Elysium, where every home is fitted with a fancy health pod that cures the human body of all diseases and ailments, pretty much allowing its residents to live forever.

He might also be able to help his old friend Frey (Braga) and her young daughter, who’s dying of leukemia but doesn’t have access to health care. Yes, Mr Blomkamp is going all-out here, a one-man crusade on behalf of the 99%. And fair play.

But he doesn’t stop there, because only a revolution will sort this mess out once and for all. So while Max is heading for the skies, he may as well team up with his insurrectionist buddy Spider (Wagner Moura) and hatch a takeover plot, a storming of the new Bastille. This involves the kidnap of an Elysian head honcho (William Fichtner) and the transfer of security files from his brain to Max’s, which is quite a technological leap for the days of torches and pitchforks.

Standing in the way of this grand plan is Elysium’s iron lady, Defence Minister Delacourt (Foster), an ice queen with a bizarre mongrel accent and nefarious plans of her own for the future of this perfect society. She also has an enforcer, an earthbound agent named Kruger, a man who must be in the running for Hammiest Villain of the Year. He’s played by Sharlto Copley, who was the desperate hero in District 9.

After that film (which I felt was a fair bit over-rated), expectations were high for Elysium, especially given that Blomkamp was handed a heftier budget this time around.

To a certain extent, he’s come good on the hype. His concept is fine, if not exactly original, and in the early stages of the film, he sets a strong, believable and visually captivating scenario.

What’s disappointing is that, as was the case in District 9, his sole mission seems to be to drive home the political points and so a lot of the film’s potential is lost. For example, we never really get a feel for the regular citizens of Elysium, a glimpse perhaps inside the life of someone who’s bored off their skull with the perfect life, this pristine suburbia in orbit.

Are there no bored Elysian housewives, no restless souls with cabin fever, mad for the bit of adventure? In Blomkamp’s black and white world, there can’t be any of that among the so-called 1%.

If there’s not much subtlety in his socio-political commentary, there’s even less in his method for resolving the great inequalities – which in the end comes down to gunfights and battle scenes, the kind of generic action we’ve seen a million times before. It’s as if, around halfway through the movie, Blomkamp’s imagination upped and died.

Matt Damon does a decent enough job as the baldy, mean-looking hero, at least until it comes time to don the iron body suit, which somehow seems to dilute his character, killing off the bit of charisma he had. But he does a far sight better than Jodie Foster who, it’s fair to say, has never been worse. And that’s saying something.

A missed opportunity, then, all round. But an impressive first half makes it worth the effort.

That’s all, folks: It’s been 17 years since my first film review appeared in The Champion. I’ve had a lot of fun writing about the movies but this week’s column is my last. Thanks for reading and thanks for your occasional feedback. We didn’t always agree but hey, what fun would that be? Take care for now and good luck.

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