Director    Neill Blomkamp
Starring    Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, William Fichtner
Release    9 AUG (US) 21 AUG (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


9th August 2013

There is a point in Elysium when Matt Damon's character Max DeCosta suffers a massive dose of radiation in an accident in his workplace. At that moment the film looks like it could go one of two ways: either it's a lengthy commercial for a "no win, no fee" claims handler (don't do it Max, go to Citizens Advice), or it's a superhero origin story, and Damon is about to slip into some lycra and kill people with his granite-hard man boobs. You'll be unsurprised to read that Elysium is in fact neither, which is great for those of us who hate those ads, but less good for anyone who was hoping for MaxMan: Tits Of Thunder.

And so it is that Elysium falls somewhere between awful and awesome: not terrible by any means, but certainly not what we all hoped for from Neill Blomkamp, whose previous film District 9 surprised and pleasured almost every man, woman and prawn who saw it. Having made such a refreshing, intelligent sci-fi debut, more of the same from Blomkamp would have been just the ticket for audiences who will one day tell their disbelieving, weeping grandchildren what it was like to live through the 2013 blockbuster season. Alas, 'twas not to be.

Matt finally had Zack Snyder in his sights.

Don't crack open the anti-depressants just yet though, for there is much to enjoy in Elysium. Set in the year 2154, it depicts an Earth - and specifically a Los Angeles - that resembles a planet-wide version of Mr Trebus' house from voyeuristic BBC reality series A Life Of Grime, in which everyone must work shitty jobs for shitty pay or be harrassed by shitty fascist policebots. Blomkamp's world-building is every bit as successful as District 9's Johannesburg; you can almost reach out and touch the shit. This urban dystopia is juxtaposed with the titular orbiting haven, a place where the planet's wealthiest can live like kings in a disease-free utopia. Though Elysium features much less than Earth, it too is a triumph of production design, and the film's aesthetic reinforces its by now blazingly obvious theme that socio-economic inequality is, frankly, a bit of a cunt.

With the environment impressively established and filled with some frankly amazing tech, and Matt Damon's regular Joe given a shady past and a childhood sweetheart to mope over in cheesy flashback, it is at this point that he suffers his aforementioned health and safety nightmare. The only way in which he can avoid a painful and fast-approaching death is to bust into Elysium and use their free health service. That's his problem; ours is that an hour of screen time has passed and the second act has only just bothered to turn up. As a result, the remainder of the film, which concerns the attempts of Elysium's secretary of defence Delacourt (a bizarrely awful Jodie Foster) to keep Max and the rest of his filthy prole scum chums out, is rushed, faintly ridiculous and in parts as disappointingly dumb as the rest of the summer's megabudget output.

Bits of it are great: Damon is very funny for the first half-hour or so, and it looks like we're going to get our RDA of LOLs from him alone. But then he gets all moody and killy, either mooning over his lost love (now reappeared, complete with cynical plot device sick child) or kicking seven shades of shit out of everyone in his way with a surgically attached battle suit, which is fun for a while but soon gets wearing. Sharlto Copley turns up as a homicidal secret agent - literally Jodie Foster's presence on Earth - and he too gets a stream of great lines, but his performance is so exponentially OTT that it feels like he's wandered in from a different film: one where everyone shouts a lot.


There are subplots concerning a gangland boss on Earth and a shifting balance of power on Elysium, but all the characters involved are thinly drawn and hard to remember much about a few days after watching. It all boils down to a silly, extended fight scene and a frankly laughable final solution, and the overriding feeling you're left with is a yearning for the high concept and straightforward but dazzling execution of District 9. If Elysium had been Blomkamp's debut, we'd have been congratulating him on the look of his film and hoping that next time he can come up with a story to match; as it is we know he's capable of better, and can't help but feel a little let down. Still, not to worry. MaxMan: Tits Of Thunder is gonna be AWESOME, right?

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