It’s a bitch thinking of descriptive tags for Elysium: Bourne’s Skinhead Identity, Alien vs. Health Care, WALL-E on Steroids. Whatever you call it, strap in for a wild ride. South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, who busted us out of a death march of crap summer epics with 2009’s District 9, does it again. Like District 9, an allegory of apartheid that took four Oscar nods and put Blomkamp on the map, Elysium delivers sci-fi without dumbing it down. It’s a hell-raiser with a social conscience.
The year is 2154. A ruined, overpopulated Earth looks like a garbage dump in Mexico City (where Elysium was partly filmed), and Matt Damon – tattooed, head shaved, armored with attitude – is taking massive shit from droids: robots who run the place for the onepercenters. They’re the privileged few who live on Elysium, a space station orbiting Earth and run with an iron hand and no mercy by Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster, killing it), a Dick Cheney in heels.
Damon’s Max Da Costa is a factory slave who helps engineer those droids. But he can’t resist pissing them off. Blomkamp’s script bristles with biting humor, which Damon lets rip. To play Max, Blomkamp had approached Eminem, who impractically insisted they shoot in his native Detroit. No matter. Damon could not be better. He’s a dynamo with a gift for digging deep, finding passion and purpose in the cynical Max. What makes Max storm Elysium? One reason: It’s personal. When Max is irradiated in a factory accident, he’s given five days to live. Only Elysium offers an instant cure. With an exoskeleton of armor painfully welded into his body, Max gets his rockets going.
Elysium is slicker than District 9 and sometimes shouts its themes about immigration, poverty, pollution and health care. And Blomkamp will surely take flak for wrapping those themes in a popcorn movie that revels in head-spinning action. The fight scenes with Damon and fab Sharlto Copley as a nut-job villain are a total blast. But it’s Blomkamp’s balls-out approach to blending brains with brawn that lifts him above the spineless herd. Elysium is the unruly antidote to the fatuous futurism of After Earth. It sticks with you.