The DVD box of Elysium proudly announces that this is a movie “from the director of District 9.”, he being young South African film-maker Neill Blomkamp. That much is self-evident if you’ve seen both films, quite apart from the presence in a leading role in both movies of his friend and collaborator Sharlto Copley, he of the very pronounced Sith Ifrican accent. Look at the ghetto sets and you could be mistaken for thinking Blomkamp had seamlessly completed the production of one and begun shooting the next.
This time we don’t have the “prawns” (aliens if you’ve not seen District 9) but we do have more of a dystopian future (2154 apparently) in which we have droids (some of which look to have walked in directly from a number of other movies) to manage low life scum like Matt Damon‘s Max Da Costa. We also have a space station populated by the wealthy from all corners of earth, Elysium controlled with a rod of iron by megalomaniac defence secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who has designs for a coup aimed at taking over the presidency from Faran Tahir‘s President Patel (yes, you do read that correctly.)
What we do have is very similar high- and low-tech physical aggression and fighting to that found in District 9. The leading protagonists (Damon’s Da Costa and Copley’s Kruger) have their well-honed bodies grafted to half a hundredweight of protective and strengthening hardware, not to mention wielding weaponry fit to rip apart any person, vehicle or building, but as with all such movies the baddies are still dreadful shots (see my views on that phenomenon here.)
Ah, but thankfully this time around the healthcare technology has moved on to the extent that a character can have his head blown to smithereens but still have it completely restored in seconds. That is probably a tad beyond the capabilities of most max fax surgeons I’ve come across, and, I’d suggest, beyond our capabilities 40 years hence, but don’t ruin a good story. The point is that this cure-all healthcare is available only on Elysium: cue simple plot, then it’s action all the way.
Granted that I’m not a known fan of action and adventure movies, with a few honourable exceptions, but this one did not hold my attention. Characters get beaten up fit to die at regular intervals, but get up and limp on, shrugging off a small patch of make-up fake blood, which I found a poor substitute for dramatic tension. Worth saying that Blomkamp’s characters seem to be equipped with about a pint and a half of blood, since they never bleed much in the face of even the most severe injuries. The unnaturally blonde Foster is stabbed in the jugular, but there was a distinct lack of arterial spray repainting the inner walls of the space station. Maybe I’m supposed to ignore minor details like that and get carried along by the plot, but I found it an annoyance, one of many along the way.
It would have been far more interesting to have more interactions with and identify tensions and disharmony among the residents of Elysium, but they seem such a happy bunch living in their nirvana that nobody bothers talking to them. Ah yes, there is a human interest story in the form of Da Costa’s boyhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda, who needs urgent medical treatment at Elysium, which inevitably she gets and everyone lives happily ever after.
In short, this is far from the worst film you’ll ever see, being unerringly professional and competent throughout, but nothing like as interesting a movie as it might have been. Frankly the sheer welter of blasting and fighting becomes highly tedious; one hour forty five minutes seemed more like three hours, and I was glad when the inevitable finally came around and all baddies had been vanquished. I hope in his next outing Mr Blomkamp will give us a bit more variety and demonstrate the breadth of his directorial skills by making a more human drama, set in a context other than ghettoised earth.
PS. I decided that the motif here is action rather than scifi, hence the categorisation. Scifi would arguably have been a better take on this material, truth be told.