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Neill Blomkamp's 'Elysium' is more or less another 'District 9'

Matt Damon stars in "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium," another gory political allegory that's better when it turns its brain off.

A part-robot Matt Damon wields a splattery futuristic gun in "Elysium." Credit: Kimberley French A part-robot Matt Damon wields a splattery futuristic gun in "Elysium."
Credit: Kimberley French

‘Elysium’
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

If at first you succeed, try again. “Elysium,” filmmaker Neill Blomkamp’s swollen Hollywood cash-in for “District 9,” is more or less the same thing: a blunt political parable involving outer space that turns delightfully gory and involves a souped-up man-machine. Like “District 9” and its send-up of apartheid South Africa, “Elysium” — a look at chasmic class divide — isn’t deep thinking or a rock solid treatise. It’s maximalist politicizing, big and sloppy, distracting enough to take one’s mind off its polemical shortcomings.

The premise goes “Blade Runner” one further: Instead of a grim future where the rich live far above the surface, in “Elysium” everyone has gone outside our orbit, dwelling in the titular satellite that looks like a spinning Beverly Hills. Poor minorities remain on an arid Earth, although our hero is a caucasian Matt Damon with a vaguely Mexican name. After suffering radiation poisoning at his crap job, Damon’s Max DeCosta tries to sneak up to Elysium, where any and all wounds/diseases/lesions are swiftly healed.

In “District 9,” Bloomkamp ran into irksome territory by including among the baddies black South Africans. Here, he fixes that: DeCosta gets involved with shady Latinos, who when pressed turn out to be more selfless and heroic than him. “District 9”’s Sharlto Copley soon reappears, this time as the main antagonist. (Jodie Foster plays Elysium’s coldblooded Secretary of Defense, but does little but stare at screens and speak in an unplaceable — South African, maybe? — accent.) Copley is almost as manic as he was in the first film, only this time his unpredictable, unpolished shtick is used for an unsettling combination of anarchism and self-interest.

This, like “District 9,” is all building to a climax where whatever smarts and topical messages it meant to convey take a backseat to awe-inspiring destruction. This is a good thing. Blomkamp is a shallow, if sometimes daring, thinker, but exponentially superior at devising oddly beautiful ways to destroy human bodies. People don’t just die in a Neill Blomkamp film — they burst into bloody messes. DeCosta’s arc, learning to spare himself for the greater good, is stock, but the script knows how to milk its genre (if not political) ideas in inventive ways. (Never has the idea of bringing back a presumed-dead character been this inspired.) Like “District 9,” “Elysium” is thrilling when it turns off its brain and just blows stuff (or rather, people) up real good.

 
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