Something about this first US studio feature from the South African-born director of District 9 just doesn’t feel right. While Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 debut was a bracing blast of whipsmart sci-fi, clearly the work of a committed writer-director with talent and integrity to burn, his follow-up work, Elysium, feels like the product of a cautious Hollywood committee. It retains the action-movie-with-a-social-conscience template of District 9, but ditches that film’s sense of dizzying, anything-goes vitality.
Matt Damon is sturdy – if a little faceless – as the futuristic blue-collar grunt whose life nosedives when he receives a fatal-in-five-days radioactive blast at work. His only hope is to get to ‘Elysium’, the orbiting paradise reserved exclusively for the rich and heartless, run by Jodie Foster’s clipped, frosty and unconvincingly French CEO.
There are moments in Elysium which recapture the breathtaking intensity of Blomkamp’s debut, most of them involving South African actor Sharlto Copley as a mangled Afrikaans mercenary. But he’s the only character here with any spark. The special effects are uniformly superb, and a handful of action sequences – including a magnificent mid-film Smart Car heist – justify the price of admission.
But this is a messy, poorly structured film, riddled with plot holes and lacking any kind of satisfying conclusion. Perhaps it’s another case of raised expectations: from a first-timer, Elysium might seem more exciting. But in the wake of District 9, we’re all too aware what this risk-taking filmmaker is capable of, and it’s far more than this conceptually bold, sporadically engaging but ultimately bland blockbuster. Tom HuddlesonElysium
Dir Neill Blomkamp Category IIB, 109 mins, opens on Thu Sep 26