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  • 15
  • Action, Adventure
  • 2013
  • 109 mins

Elysium

Film4

Synopsis

Max DeCosta’s (Matt Damon) life depends on him escaping a hellish Los Angeles and reaching Elysium, a space colony for the over-privileged. Elysium’s Secretary of Defence (Jodie Foster) and her hired assassin Kruger (Sharlto Copley), however, have other ideas.

About

Effortlessly blending a race relations parable with thrilling sci-fi and dark humour in a totally convincing universe, 2009’s District 9 was a refreshing alternative to cookie-cutter blockbusters and marked out writer / director Neill Blomkamp as a name to watch. His follow-up therefore arrives in a frenzy of high expectations: can it live up to its predecessor’s promise? Well, yes and no. But mostly no.

Set in a grubby, poverty-stricken LA in 2154, Elysium builds a world as convincing as that of District 9’s South Africa. Blomkamp wants us to feel and smell the hardship of his dystopian vision, and it’s an immersive success. Matt Damon convinces as the improbably-named Max DeCosta, a manual labourer with a dark past struggling to get by in a city policed by fascistic droids. Damon gets some great lines in this early section, antagonising the authorities with biting sarcasm; his meeting with a parole officer-bot is among the year’s funniest scenes.

Meanwhile, up in the heavens, the idyllic space station Elysium houses a colony of ex-pats from Earth who have everything they could possibly want, including in-house medi-beds that cure all diseases. It doesn’t take long to see where Blomkamp’s going with this: where District 9 used alien apartheid as a background to the action, Elysium’s social inequality is class-based. The orbiting utopia is administrated by Jodie Foster’s Delacourt, who’ll do anything to keep the plebs out, including employing the services of Sharlto Copley’s secret agent Kruger.

And so the stage is set for an intelligent, witty adventure which, sadly, never materialises. Events are kick-started when DeCosta suffers from some sloppy health and safety in the workplace, and is pumped so full of radiation that he’ll die within days. His only chance of survival is to gain illegal passage to Elysium where he can be cured. By this point, though, a good hour has passed, and the overlong first act has an inevitable knock-on effect for the rest of the film.

Ditching the social commentary in favour of lengthy fight sequences and generic set-pieces, Elysium slips into the well-worn groove of every other big, dumb action film; Damon becomes a humourless killing machine pitted against Copley’s shouty villain in a series of dull scraps. Explosions of gore and some impressive tech raise the game, but there’s so little to care about in the characters that it’s easy to drift off; Blomkamp invested his District 9 “prawns” with more humanity than is on offer here.

Elysium’s budget is triple that of District 9, and it shows. Interesting ideas are buried beneath acres of CGI, and while it looks undeniably smashing you can’t help but miss the relative simplicity of Blomkamp’s debut.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster
  • Director: Neill Blomkamp
  • Writer: Neill Blomkamp
  • Producer: Simon Kinberg
  • Photographer: Trent Opaloch

In a nutshell

Visually stunning and with flashes of inspired genius, Elysium shows promise but is let down by an uneven structure, weak characterisation and an over-reliance on extended fight scenes. Likely to make you hungry for prawns.

by Neil Alcock

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