Elysium (2013)

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, Wagner Moura, Diego Luna

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Matt Damon as Max da Costa in Neill Blomkamp's Elysium

From its earliest inception, science fiction has never shied away from a political message, and from The Shape of Things to Come to Soylent Green to Avatar, the future has always had far more to say about the present than what lies ahead. Neill Blomkamp's previous film, the bold, moving and original anti-apartheid alien invasion movie District 9, was certainly no exception. And now, with Elysium, he's done it again.

But while Wikus van der Merwe's journey from government jobsworth to extra-terrestrial outcast left room for shades of grey in the argument, in Elysium everything is strictly black and white. You have your good guys (the poor) and your bad guys (the rich), and then you have your even worse guys (poor people who are paid by the rich people to kill off other poor people). A complex moral study this ain't.

Los Angeles in 2154 closely resembles the world of WALL-E: earth has become a giant polluted rubbish dump, a sceptic boil on the arse of the universe. But while in Pixar's vision of the future, everyone gets to orbit the planet in a luxury space cruiser, in Elysium that privilege is reserved for the super rich. The rest (thieves, orphans, nurses, computer geeks, old ladies, manual labourers and Hispanic and black people) are left to scavenge a living as best they can, at the mercy of rules laid down by robotic civil servants and brutally enforced by menacing armed droids.

Sharlto Copley as Kruger in Elysium

Max da Costa (Matt Damon) is one such unfortunate have-not, a street kid turned car jacker turned factory worker, determined to keep his nose clean and stay out of prison. Until he accidentally receives a lethal dose of radiation at work (health and safety not being a key concern of his employer, the ruthless Cyberdyne, sorry, Armadyne company) and is left with just five days to live. Only a trip to Elysium can save him (in Elysium if you're feeling a bit low all you need do is lie on a CAT scan machine and it will miraculously and painlessly cure any symptoms you can think of, from rickets to cancer to having your face blown off by a grenade). But a black market ticket comes at a price: he must hijack the brain data of Armadayne's evil CEO, John Carlyle (this summer's bad guy of choice, William Fichtner), who just so happens to have cerebrally uploaded the reboot code for Elysium, which means that Max (now transformed by backstreet surgeons into a bolted together, bargain basement Robocop) is immediately set upon by hired terminator Kruger (Sharlto Copley, looking oddly like Kirk Douglas in Spartacus), a killer as unstoppable as a T2000 but bearing an all-too-human grudge the size of a rocket launcher. His boss is Jodie Foster, the ice cold defence secretary on Elysium, who wants to reboot the off-world paradise because she's narked at the namby pamby president's aversion to blowing people up. Meanwhile back on earth we have Max's childhood sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga), whose daughter is dying of leukaemia and so needs a pass to Elysium and… something to do with a hippo and a meerkat and… are you still with me?

Jodie Foster as Defence Secretary Delacourt in Elysium

Yup, it's all going on in this action-packed, super-charged sci-fi adventure. In fact, think of something you once saw in a sci-fi movie and chances are you'll encounter it again here: microchips embedded in the brain, killer robots, ineffectual presidents, cybernetic humans, massive spaceships and computers flashing screeds of data that can yet be edited at lightning speed. It's William S Gibson meets Philip K Dick, Terminator meets Mad Max, Star Wars meets The Matrix – but hey, what's not to like? Because a furious excess of futuristic clichés doesn't stop Elysium from being enormously exciting, involving and entertaining. The future may be grim and dirty and bloody and rubbish for those of us not earning megabucks, but it's certainly not dull…

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