A heavy-handed sci-fi brings some spectacular action, but gets lost in its own politics and a sea of bad accents.
Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the magnificent sleeper hit District 9 arrives with all the clout of a Hollywood blockbuster, and all of the accompanying subtlety. In the (not too?) distant future of 2154, humanity is divided into a strict class system, where the richest hover the planet in a space station called Elysium, and all of their ills (even death) are but a distant memory. The rest of the dirt-dwelling scum live on Earth, unable to access the health care of the promised land of Canada Elysium, despite their repeated attempts at crossing the border. When ex-con factory worker Max (Matt Damon) discovers that he has four days to live after a radiation accident, he decides to accept a job from his former hombres and break into the utopian world and cure what ails him. Filled with beautiful special effects and magnificent hard sci-fi set design, Elysium is let down by a rambling script and some heavy-handed politics. While educating the masses on the inequities of the US health care system (and the incredibly topical ‘turn back the (space) boats’) is important, this film does neither cause any favours. Creating a sense of urgency out of a plot device that is eventually forgotten, the hero’s journey becomes folly and unsatisfying, often conveniently forgetting all the technology around them when it services the moment. There’s also the small matter of the bizarre acting choices, not least of which is Jodie Foster’s baffling English approximation. However, Sharlto Copley is wonderfully over-the-top as the barbeque destroying South African mercenary, who seems to have stepped out of Mad Max or any number of other sci-fi flicks Blomkamp is referencing. It’s lovely to look at, but ultimately a unstructured mess.