Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Directed by: Neil Blomkamp (“District 9”)
Written by: Neil Blomkamp (“District 9”)
For someone who created such an intriguing docu-style sci-fi film in 2009’s Apartheid-inspired “District 9,” director/writer Neil Blomkamp sure had a lot to live up to with his much-anticipated follow-up “Elysium.” It’s a level Blomkamp might’ve been able to reach again had it not been for his extremely heavy-handed treatment of the political themes he juggles throughout. From immigration reform to affordable healthcare to the vanishing middle class in America, Blomkamp bundles it all up and slams viewers over the head with it. It’s a surefire way to get an audience’s attention, but taking a more subtle approach would’ve meant more in the long run.
Set in 2154, “Elysium,” stars Matt Damon (“Promised Land”) as Max De Costa, a factory worker on a derelict planet Earth who is staring death in the face after an accident exposes him to a fatal dose of radiation. The only way Max can survive is if he illegally travels to Elysium, a man-made space station hovering over the globe, where only the wealthy live (think “one-percenters”) and where they are afforded the use of healing pods that can cure anyone of any ailment or injury.
With no realistic way to get to Elysium, however, Max is forced to earn a ticket there by letting an underground smuggler fit him into a brain-utilizing contraption, which will allow him to steal government files from a high profile official (William Fichtner). Overseeing everything that happens on Elysium is Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster hamming it up badly with an absurd accent to match), who sends out a sleeper agent (Sharlto Copely) to track Max before he gets a whiff of Elysian air. Max’s life isn’t the only one hanging in the balance. The daughter of a lifelong friend of his (Alicia Braga) is also desperate to get to Elysium and jump into a healing pod.
While the problem and solution is set up without much of a hitch, it’s the ridiculously obvious ways Blomkamp moves the story forward that make “Elysium” feel preachy and melodramatic. “District 9” was far more metaphorical in its political agenda. “Elysium,” however, wants to spoon feed audiences ideas about why the current U.S. class system (and other topical issues) is leading us down a path to a dystopian future. We get it, Blomkamp! If America doesn’t change its ways, Earth is bound to end up a bigger wasteland than Detroit. Now, gimme my welfare check!
To his credit, Blomkamp has an incredible eye for sci-fi and the imagination to roll out some interesting set pieces and environments that make “Elysium” look beautifully bleak. It’s unfortunate, however, that he couldn’t just step off the soapbox for a few minutes and remind us there’s more to the story than what a silly little fable can offer.