It's the year 2154 and the people of Earth are divided into two distinct class structures. The first are wealthy folk living on the Utopian sub planet Elysium. In this man-made space station, everything is pristine - from the manicured lawns and mansions to its youthful inhabitants who epitomise wealth, good health and arrogance.
Back on Earth, the scene resembles any one of the world's impoverished townships from South Africa to Brazil. The land is overpopulated, polluted and ruined. To top it all off, the authority that controls the day-to-day running of Earth are robots built by the Armadyne Corporation, the same company that built Elysium. The repercussions of this sort of model lends itself to mass poverty, health issues, violence and the aggressive desperation that comes with it.
Ex con Max De Costa, played by Matt Damon, is the central figure to which District 9 director Neill Blomkamp projects all of these issues around class. He is a disenfranchised rebel who's trying to make an honest living, despite understanding that it directly contrasts his opinions around the system. As a young orphan, he has always dreamt of life beyond the bounds of Earth, Elysium becomes a kind of child-hood obsession, almost like The Bible's Heaven, except not as unimaginable and intangible. He swears that one day he will go there, or better yet, live there and take his childhood sweetheart with, but life takes its own turns and he is thrust into an adulthood of criminal activity and eventually jail. But Max is unaware of the circumstances that will eventually lead him to come head-to-head with his dream, or perhaps his nightmare.
De Costa's post-prison day job is to build the police robots that keep the proletariat in check. He hates it, but he believes it to be a better alternative than his criminal friends, this is until he is thrust into a sticky situation.
An industrial accident causes radiation poisoning and leaves him with five days to live - the incident is largely due to his factory manager's careless regard for his workers. He is fired and given pain killers to help with the pain until he eventually dies, while the medical care he really needs is on Elysium.
In this film, Blomkamp again returns to his focus to class and racial politics, but in a much broader sense than in his previous film, District 9. It is packaged and delivered in a neatly dressed sci-fi film, complete with all of its impressive special effects, innovative costumes and A-list cast including Jodie Foster and Matt Damon. The director's subject matter, as he did in the Oscar nominated District 9, is a class of its own, merging the idea of a big blockbuster film with a strong social message that can be felt throughout the film.
Jodie Foster plays Secretary Delacourt, a hard-nosed government official who will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. In her Armani suit she comes up with a plan to try and stop the people of Earth who try to get into Elysium by any means they can. When Max is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that, if successful, will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds. He eventually comes eye-to-eye with Delacourt and her morally corrupt side-kick, played by Copley.
While the struggle between classes is ever-present, the racial politics of future Los Angeles - which resembles a Brazilian favela - also comes to the fore. The city has been taken over by Portuguese and Spanish speaking people and the metaphor in Elysium is strong and runs like a waterfall throughout the narrative of the film.
With that said however, the film reads like a less provocative and unique version of District 9, admirable in its attempt at addressing current social issues through a mirror of the future, but not as effective in its execution. Oscar-winning actress Foster plays her character a little too one dimensional, and the same can be said about Copley. Copley sticks with a heavy South African accent and provides a lot of the dark humour in the movie. While this is a great technique, it does dilute his threat as one of the prime antagonists in the film.
However, all the action sequences, fight scenes and robot explosions make up for anything that's not quite as fully fulfilled on the plot side and at the end of it all the blockbuster succeeds in creating a strong action sci-fi with a relevant social message. For that alone it is definitely worth watching, if only for its intention and entertainment value.
The film opens at local cinemas nationwide on Friday, 30 August.
Article by Siya Ngcobo, courtesy of EntertainmentAfrica.com.