Film review: Elysium (15)
IN A NUTSHELL
Neill Blomkamp follows District 9 with another gritty socialist sci-fi saga with Matt Damon suited up to nobble the nobs.
"Imagine a world," goes the uber-gravelly voice running round my head as this movie nears its end - "where the rich have everything and the poor have nothing. One man dared to dream - healthcare that meets the needs of everyone, free at the point of delivery based on clinical need not ability to pay. Matt Damon is Aneurin Bevan in a Comic Strip production of NHS!"
I wished that voice would shut up because this is a laudable movie, beautifully crafted and with a cuddly message brutally conveyed.
South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp made stark political points in his breakthrough District 9 which was a grubby prawn cocktail of sci fi and activism.
Here, he takes a modern peril (the gap between rich v poor) and does a similar thing only with more bucks and bigger stars.
The poor live on stinky earth, the rich off-planet on pristine Elysium - and never the twain shall meet if defence secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has her way.
Blomkamp is more at home among the blue collar oiks and the most effective sequences of the movie take place in the sprawling, endless metropolis of LA, part ghetto, part rubbish dump.
It is here that Matt Damon's reformed crim Max DeCosta makes a living on the production line making the instruments of his oppression - law enforcement robots - for corporate meanie John Carlyle (William Fichtner).
Ever wondered who built the Death Star and all those whizz-bang devices in shinier movies than this? It's people like DeCosta in blue overalls, earning dimes, getting sweaty, with no reward except a lethal dose of radiation when he does the Year 2154 equivalent of removing a shuttle stuck in a loom.
With five days to live, Elysium's exclusive cure-all medical bays provide the only solution. But to earn his passage on the illegal convoys, he must make a daring raid on the brain of corporate chief Carlyle which holds data that has great value on the black market.
Max inadvertently uploads Delacourt's conspiracy to alter the source code of Elysium and when he's left with the only version in his own noggin (back up, people, always back up) it gives him a useful bargaining chip.
Standing between earth and Elysium though is Delacourt's goon Kruger. Sharlto Copley plays him part avuncular bully, part WWF Santa as he gleefully sets about his task of teasing Max's childhood pal Frey who has a sick child and a chronic case of the flashbacks.
Damon, as always, is excellent as the everyman hero - flawed and frightened in the face of death. He goes from journeyman to action man (low born to high Bourne?) as best as he can with meagre clues to his essential character.
The final act feels like a letdown after the excellence of the set-up while the lame script and sentimentalism hardly helps to create a cast we care about.
Nevertheless this is confident and immersive sci fi, executed with verve and belief. It's little wonder Damon has called Blomkamp the next James Cameron.