‘Elysium’ delivers explosive sci-fi

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Aug. 15, 2013 | Modified: Aug. 15, 2013
‘Elysium’ delivers explosive sci-fi

From left, Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley star in ‘Elysium.’

What director, at some point, hasn’t considered attaching a robotic exoskeleton to Matt Damon?

OK, maybe Neill Blomkamp is in the minority, but he still deserves some points for originality. The man has a vision, and even though it routinely resorts to explosions aplenty, at least they’re interesting explosions.

Whereas 2009’s “District 9” delivered cerebral sci-fi action, Blomkamp’s second feature, “Elysium,” is heavier on the action, along with a not-so-subtle message. It plays a like a bigger-budget follow-up, maybe with a bit of that “go big or go home” mentality, but Blomkamp still manages to deliver a story that, at its core, is undeniably human. And thanks to its immersive setting, tight direction, fantastic visual effects and a solid performance from Damon, “Elysium” is still a step above the rest.

In the dystopian future of 2154, Earth is pretty much an overpopulated, impoverished and disease-ridden hellhole. The wealthy 1 percent has long since abandoned its planet, choosing instead to live on Elysium, a luxury space station that’s prohibited to the have-nots, while giving the haves all they could wish for and more — including a literal cure-all form of health care.

Meanwhile, those left on Earth struggle for meager wages in a system that’s designed to keep them in their sociopolitical place. While Blomkamp’s message is anything but subtle, his grim vision of Earth seems horrifically possible, especially when we see the everyday struggles of Max Da Costa (Damon, “Dogma”), an ex-con who’s trying his darndest to go straight in a ruined Los Angeles.

His parole extended due to a misunderstanding with a robotic police officer, Max’s life gets even worse when an accident at his workplace (a factory that builds said robotic police officers, no less) leaves him with a lethal dose of radiation poisoning.

Having dreamed of living on Elysium since childhood, Max realizes he now has no choice if he wants to save his life. But he’ll need some help. In order to get a forged pass, he agrees to take part in one last heist, one that would steal some extremely sensitive data that could topple Elysium’s government — but not before he’s outfitted with a surgically grafted exoskeleton to counter his weakened state.

But the station’s secretary of defense, Delacourt (Jodie Foster, “The Silence of the Lambs”), knows what’s at stake. She enlists the services of psychotic mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley, “District 9”) to ensure the data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Things grow even more complicated for Max when he encounters childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga, “City of God”) and her terminally ill daughter, Matilda (newcomer Emma Tremblay). When she asks Max to take Matilda with him, he’s faced with a life-changing decision. Will he fight for his own interest, or will he step up for the greater good?

The ensuing action is spectacularly staged and expertly rendered in some of the most realistic digital effects to date. The film’s sun-bleached palette lends a sense of tangibility to the technological marvels that litter this futuristic setting, while their design is a deft blend of obsolete and high-tech.
Blomkamp’s story is obviously inspired by a variety of sci-fi classics, including “RoboCop” and “Blade Runner” for starters, but the director manages to make something uniquely his own. And although his message is nothing short of heavy-handed, he succeeds in immersing his audience, allowing for a surprising degree of character investment.

Max, Frey and even Delacourt aren’t very three-dimensional, but they manage to represent a crucial aspect of humanity — the instinct for survival. But whereas our heroes will stop at nothing to preserve life, our antagonists will do the same to preserve their way of life.

As such, setting plays as big of a character as the protagonist. If only it had a robotic exoskeleton.
“Elysium,” rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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