The last time director Neill Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley worked together it was in the brilliant, Oscar-nominated “District 9.” Four years later they’ve reunited for another cautionary tale called “Elysium.”
Early in the 22nd century, the Earth is but a shell of its former glory. Over-population has turned the planet into one giant, overcrowded slum, where unrest and violence reigns. High above the planet sits Elysium, a space station where the very rich and connected live worry free. The weather is always nice and nobody ever gets sick, thanks to an invention that cures everything from a paper cut to stage-4 cancer. We meet young Max (Maxwell Perry Cotton) and Frey (Valentina Giron) in the orphanage they live in. They both marvel at the sight that floats in the sky above them. “One day,” Max tells Frey, “I’m going there.”
We meet the now adult Max (Damon) as he walks through the crowded streets to work. Max works on the assembly line of a company that makes androids. Max did not do well after he left the orphanage and has spent some time in prison. His boss knows his past and constantly berates him. When an accident at work leaves Max with only days to live he will do anything he can to get to the Shangri-La in the sky.
What made “District 9” such a great film was the “under the radar” anti-apartheid message it told. That same greatness permeates “Elysium.” Here the message is over-population and illegal immigration. Is it a coincidence that the majority of those left on Earth speak Spanish, while the citizens of Elysium chat happily in French? Who knows. But it certainly makes you think.
Besides Copley, who plays a rogue agent for the tough-as-nails anti-immigration defense secretary (Foster), the cast is clearly divided between the have and have-nots. Damon, his body covered in enough steel to make him a cyborg, fights against all costs to realize his childhood dream. Besides Foster he has to contend with John Carlyle (William Fichtner), at whose company he works. It is Fichtner’s second baddie of the summer (after “The Lone Ranger”). On the more moralistic side is Frey (Alice Braga), now an adult and single mother and newly elected President Patel (Faran Tahir). Everyone in the cast does a fine job with the surprising exception of Foster. Speaking in a clipped, faux-accent, she sounds like Madonna after she moved to England.
Visually the film is packed with powerful images. Is that what our planet will look like in the next century? The future looks bleak, though if a comment the adult Frey makes, even though the world is in chaos you can still find cartoons on television. It’s certainly a world Neill Blomkamp wants you to consider. And do your best to avoid.