District 9 writer-director, Neill Blomkamp, returns with Elysium, another dystopian sci-fi adventure that raises questions about our modern world.
It’s 2154 and Blomkamp gives us a believable future of poverty, slums, overpopulation, pollution and disease.
It’s a familiar imagining which takes influence from Bladerunner and Total Recall but Blomkamp makes this vision entirely his own in the dusty, crumbling remnants of Los Angeles.
While the poor are left to their hard, desperate lives on Earth, the wealthy have relocated to an island in the sky known as Elysium - a clean, spacious, grassy retreat where medical pods can rebuild a man’s face and cure radiation poisoning.
Elysium’s plot centres on Max (Matt Damon), a reformed ex-criminal with a revitalised work-ethic, who believes hard work will eventually get him to Elysium. When an industrial accident gives him only five days to live, Max is forced back into the criminal underworld to reach the only place that can save him - the medical bays of Elysium.
As with the very best of science-fiction, Blomkamp’s latest dystopian imagining raises questions about our own world from immigration to healthcare.
In focusing almost entirely on the ruined Earth, the efforts of Max and those running immigration rackets - who are inventively cast here as social revolutionaries - Blomkamp’s second film resolutely challenges attitudes to immigration, wealth and class.
Yet Elysium’s intricate themes are not matched by meticulous characterisation. An undercurrent of selfishness bubbles beneath the character of Max, along with numerous references to faith, but these remain relatively unexplored despite a convincing performance by Matt Damon.
Equally, the ruthlessness of Jodie Foster’s government agent Delacourt - who wastes no time in blowing up immigrant ships or organising a political coup - and the unempathising character of factory boss, John Carlyle (William Fichtner), might be bold, but leave these characters feeling more like elitist stereotypes than conceivable people.
While the odd line given to Elysium’s marginally more humane president hints at a more complex interpretation of this future’s wealthiest component, this one-dimensional approach to Elysium citizens is effective only in its impact on the story’s unflinching point of view.
With the introduction of a disturbed South African bounty hunter working on the fringes of the Elysium government (Sharlto Copley), Blomkamp’s latest offering takes a turn towards a more conventional, high-action final act. Escalating gore and cliched dialogue creep in for a disappointing finale that lands on a naively optimistic resolution.
Despite its more conventional plot turn, Blomkamp’s quirky touches - from robotic doctors with a laughably matter of fact bedside manner, to robot parole officers handing out arbitrary punishments with only the merest hint of humanity - give Elysium an inventive, creative feel.
Such creativity is matched in the camera work that is both at times reminiscent of modern warfare footage in its shaky, blurring visuals and, at others, sharply futuristic in extensively detailed slow motion shots that bring visceral reality to the action.
This pointed dystopian vision calls into question contemporary attitudes to immigration and Obamacare elevating Elysium far beyond typical sci-fi offerings. If a little more conventional than District 9, Neill Blomkamp once more unites quirky, convincing futures with solid thematic weight and a gripping plot to make Elysium this year’s science fiction must see.
Running time: 109 minutes