(2013) (Matt Damon, Jodie Foster) (R)
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- QUICK TAKE:
- Sci-Fi: A mortally injured factory worker of the mid 22nd century tries to get to a luxurious orbiting space station where the rich live and free health care cures all ailments.
- It's the year 2154 and Max (MATT DAMON) is an ex-con who works in a factory assembling robots in the shanty town city of Los Angeles. While the poor, sick and otherwise downtrodden live in squalor like him, the rich and privileged reside on a luxurious space station known as Elysium that orbits earth. There, mansions and swimming pools are commonplace, while the heath care is free and insures that no resident ever grows old or gets sick. That order is maintained by Secretary of Defense Delacourt (JODIE FOSTER) who uses a sleeper agent back on Earth, Kruger (SHARLTO COPLEY), to shoot down any shuttles carrying illegal immigrants headed for Elysium.
That sort of behavior doesn't sit well with President Patel (FARAN TAHIR), but she's gunning for a move up the leadership ladder, what with having an in through John Carlyle (WILLIAM FICHTNER), the CEO of the defense contractor corporation that runs the factory where Max works. Max's friend, Julio (DIEGO LUNA), wants his help stealing cars -- a past behavior that lead Max's childhood friend turned nurse, Frey (ALICE BRAGA), to give up any hope regarding him and his future -- but Max wants to stay out of prison.
Yet, when he's accidentally exposed to lethal doses of radiation at work and given just days to live, Max turns to his former criminal associate, Spider (WAGNER MOURA), with a plea to send him up to Elysium for treatment, something Frey has also dreamed of regarding her terminally ill young daughter, Matilda (EMMA TREMBLAY). Wanting something out of doing so, Spider offers Max a deal. If he can steal important corporate data from Carlyle, Spider will put him on a shuttle for the space station. With time running out, Max -- now equipped with a motorized exoskeleton to give him a fighting chance -- sets out to do just that, but must contend with Delacourt sending in Kruger to make sure that doesn't happen.
- OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
- If I didn't know better, I'd swear that writers who dabble in the genre of sci-fi and especially futurism, be that in novels or movies, are a pessimistic bunch. Yes, I understand they're telling cautionary tales about what humans could very well likely do to themselves and our planet in the distant and sometimes not-so-distant future. And the majority of them show some glimmer of hope of someone coming along to fix things or change the status quo.
Even so, films of recent that are set in the future start off as cinematic Debbie Downers. This year, we've already had Tom Cruise living above Earth as a wasteland in "Oblivion" and Will Smith returning to the title place in "After Earth." Last year featured the likes of "The Hunger Games," "Dredd," and even the kids' film "The Lorax" that followed in the footsteps of an earlier "look what they did to Earth" animated offering, "WALL-E."
All of those and a slew of others are now joined by "Elysium," the sci-fi tale of Earth in the year 2154 where the rich and politicos now live on a lush space station in orbit around Earth (that looks like something from "2001: A Space Odyssey" but with grass, mansions, free & all-curing heath care, swimming pools and, most likely, movie stars) while the sick, poor and otherwise downtrodden live in the enormous shantytown of Los Angeles.
As conceived by writer/director Neill Blomkamp, it's an all-familiar story of what could happen should we seriously screw up our lovely planet. But considering the filmmaker is known for metaphorical plots -- what with having already covered Apartheid in 2009's "District 9" where alien cockroach-like beings were treated like blacks in South Africa of the recent past -- it's no surprise there's more to this tale than simply dystopianism.
It's not hard to figure out what that is considering that the poor are seen early on cramming into shuttles that head toward the titular space station hoping to get the same degree of health care as the rich and privileged, only to be blasted from the sky by orders from the steely but opportunistic Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster) who doesn't want those gross illegal immigrants contaminating her idyllic world. Yes, there's no need to build a border wall when miles of empty atmosphere and space, along with a couple of well-aimed shoulder to orbit missiles fired by the zealot's henchman (Sharlto Copley), as well as Mother Nature weeding out the sick and old, manages to accomplish the same trick.
Along comes our likely hero (Matt Damon, sporting a chrome-dome look and various tats) who's always dreamed of one day living on Elysium (seen in early flashback scenes of his childhood with another orphan girl who eventually grows up to be played by Alice Braga). But he isn't likely to ever go, what with being a lowly factory worker with a former prison stint rap sheet stuck to him like a trailing piece of toilet paper on his shoe. He works for an uncaring boss (William Fichtner) and ends up mortally injured doing his job.
With his days literally numbered, he tries to get a ticket to ride from his criminal friend (Wagner Moura) who he took the rap for in the past, and now offers a "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" solution that ends up with our hero sort of getting a partial Robocop upgrade. All of which wraps back around to a subplot featuring Foster's character but is really designed just to amp up the visceral material, something the director delivers in droves.
As he proved with his last film, Blomkamp certainly has a firm grip on handling the gritty action sequences, with the staging and effects here arriving with more panache, what with the far larger budget than he was working with on "District 9." And Damon is no stranger to fight scenes, having cut his teeth on his "Bourne" movies, but this one goes fairly deep into R-rated territory with lots of bloody and gory views of bodies going boom.
While that obviously has more impact than the fairly sanitized rock 'em, sock' em material found in this summer's earlier superhero flicks, it's certainly nothing new (gee, do you think the hero will battle the henchman at the end?). And the rest of the story pretty much goes where you expect it to, with not that many (if any, to seasoned viewers) surprises along the way.
Even so, and despite the somewhat heavy metaphors as well as the usually reliable Foster feeling out of place portraying her character (I kept imagining how much better Joan Allen would have been doing the same), I liked the offering. Damon is a natural at creating a sympathetic character, Copley (who starred in the director's last film) makes for a memorable villain, and their fight scenes and the rest of the action is decently staged and executed. While it's not quite as good as "District 9" that came out of the blue and surprised everyone, "Elysium" is still a decent offering for those who like their future bleak with a glimmer of hope. It rates as a 6 out of 10.
Reviewed August 5, 2013 / Posted August 9, 2013
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