Elysium


South African director Neill Blomkamp has a distinctive cinematic eye, which is not to say his vision is wholly original but it IS arresting, I think. His film District 9 (2009) merged science fiction and the sociopolitical. This is not a first, I grant you. Nearly every important work of science fiction film I know is actually a treatise on some social or political structure. But District 9 was a bold and refreshing comment on apartheid (actually any systemic disenfranchisement and corralling of indigenous peoples). Set in the squalid wards of Johannesburg (Blomkamp's hometown), the film starred fellow South African Sharlto Copley as a field agent whose job was to be an intermediary between the government and members of an alien race that had settled in J-burg and been ghettoized in a crowded and polluted reserve. Through the course of events, the agent is exposed to alien DNA and begins to mutate, form bonds with aliens and become radicalized against the government. It was a meticulously crafted and intriguing film.
Blomkamp's latest, Elysium, plows similar ground but lacks the freshness of the earlier film. In this movie, the Earth has been overrun and gutted and the richest 1 percent of the planet's inhabitants have escaped to an orbiting Skylab monstrosity called Elysium, where all is lush luxury for its Francophone residents. This Eden is ruled ineffectually by an Armani clad and coiffed council of Benetton wannabes but protected by the ballsy defense secretary Delacourt (an imperious Jodie Foster). The biggest fear of Elysium leaders is the illegal immigration of the earthly unwashed and they take particularly decisive and punitive actions to halt the smuggling of immigrants.

Most of the film is set in a bombed out Los Angeles, where our hero Max (I don't know if the name is an homage to Mad Max but the film's design and texture certainly are) labors in a factory that builds robots used by the elevated 1 percent to police the masses on terra firma. After an industrial accident exposes Max (a paroled car thief played with typical assurance by Matt Damon) to a lethal dose of radiation, he is recruited by his former comrades in the radical underground to undergo the surgical grafting of a fighting exoskeleton to his body so he can lead a team on a mission to steal valuable data that will ultimately heal the planet. In short order, the team is decimated by a brutal earthbound Elysium agent(Copley).  The final battle between the two men is terrifically, grungily gladiatorial. This entertainer movie contains a patchwork of swatches from 1984, Blade Runner, Robocop and the aforementioned Mad Max. Recommended but features scenes of bloody viscera and gore.

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