Ratings: 3.5 stars out of 5
If science fiction films are anything to go by, the future for humankind is looking quite grim.
Recent movies such as ‘In Time’ and ‘Oblivion’, or classics such as ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Metropolis’ have divined and foresaw one possible outcome: dystopia.
Matt Damon (R) gets an anatomical upgrade
And sci-fi film directors are like soothsayers, foretelling impending doom for humans through celluloid.
One such person is 33-year-old Neill Blomkamp.
Definitely wiser than his years, the South African visionary has a knack for envisaging a society filled with misery and deprivation, by crafting science-fiction fables that underline the wayward ways of this planet’s inhabitants. And he is really good at it.
The filmmaker first fused science fiction and social commentary in his 2009 movie ‘District 9’, an Apartheid allegory based on his 2005 short, ‘Alive in Joburg’, which received critical acclaim and four Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture and Best Visual Effects in 2010.
Not bad for a newbie.
With ‘Elysium’, Blomkamp prophesised a very divided, diseased and environmentally tattered future world in the year 2154, where the poor live in squalid shanty-towns while the rich absconded with their wealth to a man-made space haven called “Elysium” in order to preserve their way of life.
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Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is one of the unfortunate ones who is still Earthbound. A paroled convict, he works the line at a factory which manufactures robo-cops, machines that act as law enforcement on Earth. When an accident subjects him to lethal radiation, he is soon out of a job and has five days to live, so he is bent on going to Elysium for a chance at a cure.
His former boss, an underworld kingpin, offers him a ticket there, in exchange for his help to execute a dangerous job.
This sets Max up as a target for Elysium’s defence secretary, played by a snarling and Armani-suited Jodie Foster, and a sleeper agent from Elysium with an agenda of his own, as he battles against the forces to save his life and those of humankind.
While ‘District 9’ was a hefty mindbender that delves into racism, ‘Elysium’ rides the current zeitgeist and touches on poverty, immigration, overpopulation, the haves and have-nots – an agitprop of sorts against social and economic inequality.
SCI-FI ACTION AT ITS FINEST
Despite the heavy-handedness of its social undertones, ‘Elysium’ is a science-fiction action movie at its finest. Just like ‘District 9’, Blomkamp spiked the movie with spectacular effects, imaginative action set pieces and impressive gadgetry.
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He shows again why he is a master storyteller (he also wrote the script) with an incredible sense of pacing despite the frenetic handheld camera-work.
From the congested shantytowns of Los Angeles to the luxurious confines of the country club-like Elysium replete with obscene mansions outfitted with Versace medical pods, futuristic Bulgari watches and Bugatti spaceships, Blomkamp reels the audience in, making them care and subconsciously willing Max to succeed in his quest.
Damon gives an earnest performance that carries the movie forward, a performance so compelling that you would overlook his character’s initial selfish motivation to survive.
Foster is convincing in her turn as the ruthless government official who is soul-less and vacuous.
Sharlto Copley as the sleeper agent oozes villainy through his pores, commanding and stealing every scene he’s in.
Expectations are high and Blomkamp does not disappoint with his sophomore effort, which is an engaging piece of work that packs some serious emotional punch, thanks to a superb cast and wonderful storytelling.
Although ‘Elysium’ doesn’t eclipse its predecessor, it is still a strong follow-up and it’s perhaps the science-fiction event of the year.
Blomkamp remains one of the most exciting filmmakers to watch, and if he keeps up his trademark of crafting science fiction with smarts, he will certainly raise the genre to new heights.