Director: Neill Blomkamp
Running time: 109 minutes
* * *
It’s 2154, and Earth is broken, dirty, diseased and looks a lot like Buchanan Street bus station on a very sunny day.
I’m not being entirely irreverent here: South African director Neill Blomkamp has a knack of blending current touchstones with digitised futurescapes, so that his dystopias have a nice sense of familiarity and history to them. His last film, District 9, conflated apartheid abuse with giant shrimp ETs and emerged as one of the smarter debuts of 2009.
Unfortunately Elysium has rather too much that feels familiar. Industrial, polyethnic Earth is reminiscent of Bladerunner; humans downloading data into their heads may bring back buried memories of Johnny Mnemonic; while the blissful circular spin of a spaceship just needs the Blue Danube to complete its 2001 meditation.
The steering-wheel shaped station is Elysium, an orbiting Utopia where Earth’s wealthy elite live in huge ice-cream mansions, and life seems permanently set at Pimm’s o’clock. Doesn’t perfection get a little dull? That’s an interesting question, but not one explored by Elysium, which has its heart set on laying out its rather hamfisted parable of first world and third world tensions.
Leading the haves is Jodie Foster, and you can tell she’s heartless by her British accent and impeccable couture. As Defence Secretary Delacourt, she’s the Eva Peron of Moonbase Alpha, and is plotting a powergrab with the help of a pitiless industrialist (William Fichtner). Meanwhile, down on Earth, there is Max, the kind of shaven-headed, tattooed muscular thug role that is owned by Mark Wahlberg. Instead, we have Matt Damon, trying to hide his O Grades.
A former crook, Max is trying to go legit by working on an heavy duty assembly line, until he’s accidentally doused in radiation. An interesting sidenote is that in Blomkamp’s hellish future, a sort of global NHS has been established. It’s a bit ramshackle and brusque – a robot tosses Damon a handful of painkillers and tells him he has five days to live – but still, good news for Obamacare proponents. However, Bupa has also made it to the future: on Elysium every home has a cat-scan which zaps everything from cuts and burns to cancer, and understandably, Max is now desperate to take advantage of their superior medical facilities.
Elysium is not a bad movie, but it doesn’t seem to sense when we’ve had enough. We don’t need to know any more about Max – yet the film supplies us with a mawkish childhood as an orphan brought up by nuns. Worse, after Max downloads some vital corporate data into his brain, the film devolves into a series of slick chaseathons, fights and races.
The film’s problematic ethos is embodied by a mercenary called Kruger (District 9 hero Sharlto Copley), who is so determined to catch Max that even a full-face blast with a hand grenade doesn’t stop him. He’s as remorseless as the Terminator. Unfortunately by the end, so is Elysium.
On general release from Wednesday