Often brainy and socially conscious sci-fi action. Elysium is a rare movie that combines those two things, and it also is balls-out about portraying an Earth that has unjust civic services. This contrasts with the wheel-shaped Elysium-named space station that is designed with luxury for the elite class. Several bands of earthlings attempt to fly up in rocket ships and breach the space station, if only for a few minutes to use medical pods that cure cancer and other ailments. Residents of this neatly landscaped haven, it is suggested, must live for a very long time. Matt Damon, in a riled and dogged performance, plays an expendable factory worker who experiences a life-changing accident on the job and needs one of those pods that will prolong his life. In the process, he kickstarts a revolution.
The idea of slave-wagers exploited goes as far back as the science fiction silent film “Metropolis” (1927), one of the first truly great films ever made. That Fritz Lang film was an allegory, a howling cry about the ruling social class living above ground and the cogs that keep society running toiling underground. Visually, “Elysium” continues the tradition and is one of the great achievements in social class disparity among science film films. We sense the futuristic peoples clawing their way to earn minimum wages and to seek better health care. The everywhere shantytown life is plausible (it was filmed in Mexico City), and you sense this is what the world could turn to when we reach overpopulation and scarcity.
This theme of social class imbalance seems to be a preoccupation with writer-director-wunderkind-in-the-making Neill Blomkamp. Previously, Blomkamp made “District 9” which had good ideas but I felt was overrun by action nonsense that devolved into pointlessness. With “Elysium,” the action and ideas are more sensibly balanced. Yet I do wish more time was spent with the rich people who are seen in a distance, simply seen as mindless hedonists.
Time is rather spent with the privileged oppressors in charge. Two particular performances stand out – Jodie Foster (“Contact”) as the heartless shoot-the-Earth-population-down Elysium Defense Secretary, and William Fichtner (“The Lone Ranger”) as the corporate boss on Earth who cares nothing about reforming safety issues for his workers. They look at the lower classes as expendable commodities.
The action scenes do have a social protest fury about them, even if we are only watching a few individuals at a time fight the system. The display of artificial intelligence is top-notch as well. Imagine a raging Spielberg directing “I, Robot.” These policing robots programmed for evil are as oppressive as the human military which is also crucial.
I did feel the action ran on a little too long in the final scenes where Damon goes mano-o-mano with a sleeper agent played by Sharlto Copley, who is otherwise excellent as a figure driven by an overinflated sense of invincible posterity. Damon, who by this point has a computer bioport plugged into his mind and steel-skeletal casing, appropriately acts with urgency and fear of doom during the action scenes. Bravo Damon, for combining brawn with quick-wit.
I want to stress this is an angry film about how in any out of whack society there must inevitably be a call of action for social reform. Colossal – this is a thinking man’s action movie. With Alice Braga and Diego Luna as Damon’s fellow associates, they make us care too. Any actor should want to work with Blomkamp after seeing this.
109 Minutes. Rated R.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / REVOLUTIONARY MINDS / FRIDAY NIGHT MIND-BENDER
Film Cousins: “Metropolis” (1927, Germany); “Soylent Green” (1973); “Blade Runner” (1982); “Total Recall” (1990).