Mutating into Another District:
I suppose that after writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s terrific and surprising debut a few years ago with District 9, his second feature was always going to be a hard act to follow. I didn’t expect it to be this much of a move back to the inner city, though.
Sure, I guess that in retrospect his previous allegory of South African apartheid was a bit heavy-handed, but by heavens it was entertaining and thought-provoking. His new film, Elysium, is also entertaining enough in a seen-it-all-before kind of way, but it really does go overboard in bludgeoning the viewer with clichés. I don’t think that there’s an original character in it.
It is set in the Los Angles of 2154 which basically seems to be populated by Hispanics. I’m not even going to go there; I’m just making an observation. The gang-types are exactly like today’s lot except with better technology. The text at the beginning unimaginatively reprises for us that hoary old tale: we have drained our resources until there is nothing left and blah blah blah. Therefore the rich have moved themselves onto the orbiting luxury habitat of Elysium where they won’t have to worry about our foul-smelling poverty-ridden carcasses. The properties are laid out in a giant ring and I would have liked a closer look at them. I’m a sucker for that kind of Rendezvous with Rama meets At the Earth’s Core –type imagery where you can look up and see rivers and forests hanging above your head. I’m really into that.
There’s no time, though! Blomkamp has a lot of shooting and explosions as well as a tiny bit of Marxist lecturing to fit into an hour-and-a-half and we’re not going to get that done by sitting on our asses. So move along there.
Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is an ex-con gone straight and with a heart-of-gold to boot. Did you tick off that box? He has an old childhood girlfriend who has become a nurse and she has a small child who is dying and needs to get to Elysium where they have access to multi-purpose cure-alls. Checked it off? Well done.
Now if they are good then the bad guys are pure unmitigated Evil with that big capital. I mean, there’s no room for your shades of grey here, fuck that namby-pamby bullshit. These are hard core bad guys. Oh, and bad girls; well, one girl. Well, Jodie Foster.
I’m not entirely sure what Ms. Foster is mutating into but whatever it is it makes her perfect for science-fiction movies. With her over-trained legs, taught, parched-looking skin and angular cheekbones she’s a long way from The Silence of the Lambs, The Accused or even Contact.
Get out of LA, Ms. Foster! Get out whilst you still can! It’s not meant for real people! Get out before David Cronenberg casts you in a movie!
Foster plays Jessica Delacourt, who is Evil in the way that most movie politicians are Evil unless they’re being played by Martin Sheen, Jeff Bridges or that guy from Independence Day. She is Secretary of Defence and intends to be President, no matter who gets in her way, whereas in real life politicians only selflessly put themselves forward in order to kiss babies and to help others.
William Fichtner plays a CEO called John Carlyle and those initials tell you everything that you need to know about him. Put it this way: when Max gets radiation poisoning John’s big concern is that Max’s skin is going to peel off and he’ll have to replace the bedding. Yep, that Evil. In fairness, Max is generously given some pills to take by a robot who tells him: “These will keep you functioning normally until you’re dead.” Ah, the humanity![Actually, just to go off on a tangent here: there’s a good scene where Max is trying to explain something to a parole officer robot and of course just isn’t getting through. It will remind you of all those calls that go: ‘Press Button A for…B for…’ If just one time you could hear ‘Would you like to speak to a human’ as you do here, you would be a happy little camper.]
As to Sharito Copley as Kruger, the Senator’s head thug, well…have you ever met someone called Kruger who wasn’t out-and-out Evil? Especially with that white South African accent. And yeah, I know the director is South African but you know what I mean. We’ve all seen Lethal Weapon 2, haven’t we?
“Diplomatic immunity! Diplomatic immunity!”
Elysium isn’t really as bad as I’m making it out to be. It’s just not that original. And we are bludgeoned by the social divide/upstairs downstairs symbolism so hard that it makes last year’s Upside Down look like a model of subtlety.
It’s just that District 9 was such an unexpected pleasure. Jeez, I’ve just had a thought: I hope that Neill Blomkamp isn’t going to turn into the new M. Night Shyamalan.