We’re in for a real treat. By 2154 (ermagerd, ther serm yer ers Erveter) we’ll have cured Leukemia and cancer. But not baldness. Unless it’s baldness caused by Leukemia.
We’ll still be using DOS and keyboards, but will have high-tech robots making us G+Ts and Mee Goreng on demand. Twenty four hours. A day.
That is, of course, if you’re lucky enough to be among the 1% living on Elysium, the ultimate gated community orbiting earth. The place has everything. Pools, robots, a refreshing lack of Apple products. It’s perfect. Just as the Greeks imagined.
Meanwhile, the 99% down below have to fetch their own G+Ts while struggling to survive Earth’s poverty, pollution, crime and robo-cops. It’s straight out of Mike Davis’s Malthusian nightmare in Planet of Slums. And anyone who tries to escape to Elysium is blown to smithereens. (At this point I’m going to go ahead and guess Elysium hasn’t signed the 1951 Refugees Convention. Wait till UNHCR hears about this. They are going to express soooo much concern. Possibly even grave concern.)
Max (Matt Damon) is one of the earth-bound 99%. He works in a robot factory, enjoying less job security than Kevin Rudd. One day he has an accident, cops a full blast of lethal radiation and is given five days to live. They could cure him on Elysium. If only.
His underworld friend Spider (Wagner Moura) offers to smuggle Max to Elysium, in return for Max’s help robbing some valuable data from the mind of billionaire industrialist, Mr Carlyle (William Fichtner). A love interest pops up somewhere on Earth, while up on Elysium Jodie Foster channels Christine Lagarde as the French-speaking, coup-plotting Defense Secretary from hell. And so on.
There’s a lot of good stuff going on here. Classic scenes abound, including a strangely familiar encounter with a customer service robot. The action is also top notch, particularly the inevitable showdown between Carlyle’s serene droid bodyguards and Max’s jittery Mexican gangbangers (ft. Diego Luna). And when Jody Foster’s rogue agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) shows up, he cranks the action up to 11, spitting his lines out with one of the dirtiest South African accents you’ll ever hear. “Ahm jest gitting stawted”. I’m sorry, what? Oh… Oh! RUN! For my money, he’s one of the best villains since T-1000 (Robert Patrick) in Terminator 2.
But there’s a lot wrong this movie also. Here’s my favourite. Early on, we see Kruger launch some futuristic missiles at three incoming refugee spaceships. The first missile nails its target, as futuristic missiles do. The second missile also nails its target. The third missile is closing in on its target and the refugee pilot looks in the rear-view mirror, sees the fireworks around him and thinks, Shit, I see what’s going on here. So he dodges the missile. Using his steering wheel. Just dodges that shit. Like a dodgeball.
Here’s another one: the writer-director (33 year old Blomkamp) is obsessed with his setting. Obsessed. Every 30 seconds it seems we’re yet again flying over earth circa 2154 (filmed in the slums of Mexico City). Again and again. Was Blomkamp trying to pump up his AeroMexico frequent flyer points? It just seems weird after a while, though it is nice to see Hollywood cooking up a dystopia that isn’t Asian. Probably less nice if you’re Mexican.
Then there’s the soundtrack, which follows the Inception school of thought by hiring 1000 trombonists to blare in unison the lowest note they can, then looping that note over and over again until the credits roll. At first it sounds epic. Then it doesn’t.
But the biggest problem must be the plot. It just feels retro-fitted. A studio executive must’ve told Blomkamp the script needed more heart. So Blomkamp made Max grow up in an orphanage. The executive still wanted more heart, so Blomkamp added a cute girl. Still more heart was needed, so he gave the girl cancer. Bless her Mexican socks.
Elysium is good fun, but it could’ve been much more. It could’ve been totes amazeballs.