By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Like much science fiction, Elysium is narratively futuristic but thematically here-and-now.
The premise: in the year 2154, Earth is one big slum.
Well, most of Earth. Not where the rich live, though, which is not really on Earth. The wealthy have long since vacated the smog-choked premises and now live on an exclusive, luxurious, high-tech orbital space station a nineteen-minute commute from Earth, in a large-scale, gated, outer-space community that lends the film its title.
So, yes, the haves are up there while the have-nots remain here. Put another, pre-Occupied way: one percent above, 99 percent below.
On Elysium, with its pristine atmosphere, advanced medical technology has rendered illness, ailment, and injury virtually obsolete.
Matt Damon plays Max De Costa, a 36-year-old ex-convict on parole who works in a Los Angeles defense factory where droids are manufactured. That’s where he is inadvertently contaminated by radiation -– talk about a protagonist’s undeserved misfortune! — and told that because of his cancer virus, he has only five days to live.
Max comes up with a plan that will save his life, at least temporarily. But he has to team up with a group of revolutionaries who are trying to open Elysium and its privileged populace to everyone.
Standing in their way and Max’s is the villainous head of the Elysium Civil Cooperation Bureau, Secretary Delacourt, played in a strangely stilted (and, frankly and surprisingly, amateurish) fashion by an off-her-game Jodie Foster.
Aided by a sadistically violent secret-police henchman played by Sharto Copley (the hero of District 9 turns villain for the same director), she follows her mandate to shoot down any illegal spaceship attempting to approach Elysium’s orbit, which is exactly what Max and his new partners have in mind.
The thoughtfully pessimistic and socially conscious screenplay by director and co-producer Neill Blomkamp has more than pure escapism on its mind — immigration comes into play, as do environmental decay, health care, class conflict, and income disparity — but it’s ultimately an action piece and isn’t in any way preachy.
After all, there’s no reason to proselytize, pontificate, or politic when the issue is built into the premise this organically: the script just makes the assumption that the same kind of disparities we debate about now will exist in the next century.
Blomkamp, a South African-born Canadian, debuted in the director’s chair with 2009’s terrific District 9, a scary and suspenseful sci-fi chiller that also played like an apartheid allegory. Like that film, this second outing is an action-oriented thriller with seamless special effects.
But it’s also about something, even if it could use a little less action and a little more nonviolent interaction.
Damon, characteristically fine in the lead (at least until he’s turned into a virtual droid and robbed of two dimensions), plays Max not as any kind of superhero but as a vulnerable, desperate everyman with a sarcastic streak.
So we’ll cure 3 stars out of 4 for Elysium, an engrossing and weighty dystopian science fiction thriller that’s action-packed but that has plenty on its mind as well.
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