elysium-firstposter-full2Neill Blomkamp burst on to the scene with one of the first movies I reviewed on this blog. Unapologetically casting South Africa’s apartheid past into the future, District 9 was a bit special, even though it kinda lost its way when it discarded the documentary feel of the first half. Blomkamp returns with a bigger budget, Hollywood A-Listers, and with his bleak brush turned to Los Angeles, he tries to repeat the magic trick he pulled in 2009.

It will come as no surprise to learn that in Blomkamp’s vision of 2154 is pretty depressing. It seems that due to horrendous world over-population, all the rich and well-to-do have abandoned ship and now live in a Utopian space station, the titular Elysium, where every house has a fancy contraption that heals all wounds and cures all diseases, while everyone else has to scratch a living in the fancy-contraption-free dusty shanty town that LA has become.

Matt Damon plays Max, an ex-con trying to rebuild his life working in a factory that builds the robots and munitions that keep Elysium such a safe haven. He gets involved in a nasty accident at work and finds himself with radiation poisoning and five days to live. He has to get himself up to the fancy contraptions to get himself cured and to do that he has to turn to one of his old gangster friends who has a plan. The plan involves transplanting data from the brain of the CEO of the guy who runs the robot factory into Max and, inexplicably, fitting Max with an exo-skeleton over his t-shirt. The Secretary of Defense up on Elysium, played by Jodie Foster, gets wind of this and sends her star henchman, Kruger (District 9‘s lead man Sharlto Copely) to stop him. Max’s long lost love, Frey (Alice Braga) and her annoying dying daughter are thrown in as an afterthought and set up very early how the movie is going to end. Honestly, the plot is even more convoluted than I’m making out and so ridden with holes that any socio-political point the movie strives to make about class ends up leaking out and making a terrible mess of the carpet.

I doubt there are many directors working today who can present as convincing a view of the future as Blomkamp. Everything about the visuals of Elysium are as impressive as its predecessor. You live and breathe the world he creates and it’s an unsettling atmosphere that’s well realised. Where he fails, though, is in the suspense department. Elysium is an oddly dull affair and in its 109 minute duration there’s very little to raise an eyebrow, never mind the pulse.

Matt Damon is, despite Team America: World Police‘s best efforts, a fine actor. His desperate portrayal of Max is a definite highlight and he does his best to distract us from everything else that doesn’t work as well. Like Jodie Foster. Equipped as she is with an awful British accent, it’s difficult to take her role of prime antagonist seriously. Worst of all, it would appear that most people in this future world need little more than a cursory glance at a scrolling page of the machine code that winds up inside Max’s head to decipher its true intent. Oh, and on Elysium, no one ever seems to be at home.

Conceptually, it’s surprisingly weak and leans too much on its inspirations, by and large the same inspirational nods that were visible in District 9, and the last five minutes are so unforgivably frustrating that seats in movie theatres around the world will end up with chunks ripped out of their arm rests. It’s hard not to be disappointed that the result of four years of Blomkamp’s efforts has turned out so average and will linger so briefly in its viewers’ minds after the end credits have rolled.