Elysium (dir. Neill Blomkamp, 2013) – When Max is exposed to fatal radiation at work, he plans a mission to the distant space station Elysium with medical facilities that can keep him alive.
A spectacular vision of class warfare, Elysium begins with a provocative premise but disappointingly shifts its focus to explosive action.
As the divide between the have and the have-nots widen, is the rupture of society imminent? Grim pessimism underpins a large majority of imagined futures in science fiction. Recent synopses – Catching Fire, Divergent and Snowpiercer just this year alone – come prefixed with ‘dystopian’.
Stemming from a very real concern on the gap between social castes, the theme resounds with firm relevance to today’s politics. Neill Blomkamp’s envisioned future joins the long list. Elysium sees the wealthy reside in a space paradise of fabled resplendence, oblivious to the systemic inequality that leaves the rest struggling in the slums on Earth.
At the bottom of the social level, Max (Matt Damon) suffers radiation poisoning and is left to die without access to medical facilities. His only chance of survival is on Elysium, where Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) employs agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to keep illegal immigrants off the habitat – by deportation or outright murder.
Though the premise inspires deeper introspection, Elysium ultimately barely brushes upon social commentary. The movie also holds the bridle on the universe’s specifics. Instead, the conventional plot lays out a set of archetypes. A classic action hero stands opposite caricatures of unscrupulous politicians in a straightforward world-saving narrative.
Thankfully, an excellent cast backs these broadly written characters. Against the weak motivation of a romantic subplot, leading man Matt Damon persists with grit and cut-throat contention. Sharlto Copley adorns his generic villain with sharp vileness and well-timed expletives.
Alongside performances, stunning visuals pull you right into the story. Before grand landscapes, an impressive arsenal of weaponry makes a great excuse for slick action sequences. It has been a while since an action film has been this entirely entertaining. Director Neill Blomkamp’s visual mastery comes through, though any comparison to the sophistication of District 9 would be a set up to disappointment.