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The future of the 1 percent - Elysium'

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Matt Damon Matt Damon

Good science fiction has a tendency to use the future as a mirror reflecting the concerns of the present. Societal concerns and issues can be addressed with a degree of remove, allowing them to be looked at with fresh eyes.

Writer/director Neill Blomkamp gave us one of the best sci-fi allegories of recent years with 2009's 'District 9.' That film used alien refugees and the bureaucratic agencies that dealt with them as a surrogate for apartheid, resulting in one of the most thought-provoking films of the year and one of the best science fiction offerings of the past decade.

So hopes were high for 'Elysium,' his latest, a film whose crosshairs are centered squarely on class inequality. Alas, those high hopes aren't quite met.

Max (Matt Damon, 'Promised Land') is an ex-con living in the wasteland of Los Angeles circa 2154. The Earth is heavily polluted and wildly overpopulated. The only people living in comfort are those wealthy enough to secure citizenship on Elysium, a gigantic space station dotted with palatial homes and lush landscapes. Citizens of Elysium want for nothing; thanks to their technology, they never get sick.

Of course, Elysium's citizenry guards its plenty jealously, led by Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster, 'Carnage'), a woman whose lust for power is matched only by her calculated disdain for those less fortunate who might try to make their way to Elysium.

When Max finds himself suddenly, terminally ill, he has just a matter of days to find a way to Elysium for treatment. In order to gain passage on an illicit shuttle, Max agrees to a data robbery of a wealthy citizen. He finds himself surgically altered, with a powerful exo-skeleton and a download port embedded in his head.

Only it turns out that there is much more than just money on the line; Max soon learns that the data contains information that could drastically alter the lives of people both on Earth and in Elysium. The data is so sensitive that everybody is after it, including a disgraced sleeper agent named Kruger (Sharlto Copley, 'Europa Report') who will stop at nothing to gain access to Max including kidnapping Max's childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga, 'On the Road') and her daughter.

Max is left to try to save himself and his friends while powerful people both on Earth and in the sky above it try desperately to stop him.

In theory, all of the pieces are here. You've got a top-shelf actor in the lead role in Damon and some wonderful actors in supporting roles. Blomkamp has proven that he's a fine writer/director and the film has a fairly memorable and well-realized look. The class warfare underpinnings feel relevant and current. And yet it doesn't quite click.

On the surface, Damon seems like a strong choice for this film. Frankly, you need a bankable box office name for a big-budget project like this one - and his performance certainly isn't bad but it never really comes together. Despite Max's bad guy past, there are no visible chinks in the armor; the guy is basically a saint. And there's zero chemistry with the supposed love interest (though to be fair, that might be by design).

Foster's clipped delivery and bleached-out appearance make you wonder when the Jodie Foster replicant officially went online (I'm guessing sometime right after that weird privacy speech at the Golden Globes). She's supposed to be cold and clinical we get it but maybe eliminating anything resembling emoting is a bad way to use a multiple Oscar winner. And Copley who I kind of love, by the way comes off as far more comic relief-y than a murderous government operative probably should.

It probably sounds like I didn't like 'Elysium.' I did; there's some good stuff here. It's better than other dystopian summer offerings like 'Oblivion' and 'After Earth.' But it isn't a lot better, which was what I was hoping and expecting. The classist stuff feels a bit forced at times, while the story doesn't provide a lot in the way of dramatic tension.

In the end, 'Elysium' is a good movie, but a disappointing one I wanted it to be great.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 21:23

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