Prosthetics & propaganda
Four years ago, director Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” was seen by many as surprise sci-fi triumph. In truth, while original on many levels, the film only hinted at social commentary then quickly devolved into a violent one-dimensional actioner – intense but not really thought-provoking. Blomkamp’s latest, “Elysium” includes enough social commentary for both films, but its occasionally interesting script is bludgeoned by its heavy-handed political pandering.
A dystopian future set in 2154 finds stark contrasts between its two social classes. On Earth, or more specifically greater Los Angeles, dwells the rejected underclass: Impoverished, mostly Spanish-speaking refugees left behind to contend with gangs, slum-like living conditions and no available health care. Just beyond Earth’s orbit, living on a spacecraft that looks like a giant Mercedes Benz insignia, lives the bikini and bling upper crust in immaculate palaces, sipping champagne and avoiding ailments with the use of in-home medical bays that immediately cure any and all afflictions (You know, the kind of lifestyle Hollywood celebs lead…irony?).
“Elysium” only stops pounding us with its pretentious allegory in order to depict the plight of reluctant revolutionary Max, who, recently irradiated in a job accident, has five days to live and must get to Elysium to cure himself.
Some other interesting characters surface, including a fellow earthbound insurrectionist (Wagner Moura), a faithful friend (Diego Luna), and menacing double agent (Sharlto Copley, who also starred in “District 9”). Jodie Foster is the designer suit-clad defense secretary who will stop at nothing to secure “Elysium’s” borders but ultimately comes off as idiotically brash. (A poor Euro-something accent doesn’t help.)
Damon is predictably sturdy as the underachieving lowlife who gets fitted with robotic enhancements that help him fight off his enemies, but he falls short of embodying a rousing hero-type.
The filmmakers have fashioned a somewhat confusing future that at times looks exactly like the present day, with tattoos, machinery, architecture and technology seeing little evolutionary progress.
And the twisty, uneven storyline never bores but never hits home emotionally, either. Any real connection is lost in the seemingly relentless class gap ideology.
All this political implication involving immigration, health care, and ‘one-percenter’ malevolence begs the question: Just whose policies exactly portend such a dire future? Those of the people currently in power, or those of future leaders?
It’s possible “Elysium” knows the answer, but one thing is surely true: Movie fans would prefer that a better caliber of film were asking the question.
Rated R for strong bloody language and violence throughout. Running time: 1 hr. 37 min.