The new sci-fi action drama Elysium convincingly depicts a bleak future in which the world is separated into two classes, where the wealthy get to enjoy the highest standards of health care while the rest are left to fend for themselves under increasingly impersonal, hostile conditions—wait a minute, that sounds pretty much like today. In fact, one might think that this latest film from District 9’s director Neill Blomkamp is another attempt to make an allegory for our times under the guise of science fiction.
If that’s the case, the director is aided in no small measure by Matt Damon as the hero, a sincere, determined and likable ex-con turned working stiff who just wants to get by—and perhaps even rekindle a friendship with childhood love turned nurse Alice Braga. An early accident dooms our hero with a lethal dose of radiation, and his one hope is to get to Elysium, a privileged, restricted space station/resort community located a mere twenty minute rocket ride away. Elysium has the latest medical technology, namely medical pods that can immediately cure what’s ailing you—it also has a powerful government minister (Jodie Foster) who is willing to kill any and all trespassers to the elite Elysium. Nevertheless, Damon has connections (as in some shady smugglers) and gets himself fitted with an exo-skeletal outfit that gives him enhanced strength—and allows him to become enmeshed in a plot to bring the class barriers crashing down, as well as maybe save the life of Braga’s daughter, who really needs to use that pod.
Elysium’s first half is the better half of an entertaining, if flawed film, as Damon is harassed by the local storm troopers, forced to nearly grovel in front of an impersonal (literally) parole officer whose lack of understanding is exceeded only by its worthless displays of concern. His employers have no sympathy for him and any of the workers, and coerce them into risking their lives so that the day’s work will be accomplished. Life on earth is hell, but what lies beyond? Elysium is presented as utopia, but all it seems like is a luxurious, still (but not necessarily peaceful) resort, blissfully unaware of the power plays going on between Ms. Foster and the President (who would like Foster to deal with unwanted immigrants with a little less lethal dispatch). After Damon gets fitted and armed, the movie turns into an action thriller with a few good setpieces (as in the first battle between Damon and the troopers), while it grows more implausible and predictable with each passing minute. Damon remains a sympathetic, commanding presence throughout; his strength is needed to offset a poorly calculated portrayal from Jodie Foster (where do we start—affected accent, behavior that in no way resembles a human). In fact, she may be the most convincingly robotic ingredient in Elysium.
2 Guns is one hugely enjoyable buddy movie that explodes with chemistry and nicely staged action sequences.
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg star as two undercover agents (though at first unknown to each other) whose play to bring down a drug kingpin (Edward James Olmos) through robbing his ill-gotten gains brings them in conflict with the Navy and the CIA (each wants to use the money for their own ends, and I don’t mean funding children’s hospitals). It’s good to see Washington playing fast and loose, and Wahlberg is in top form as his opponent/ally—depending on how the mood strikes. Tom Paxton and Edward James Olmos also get to sink their teeth into their some juicy bad-ass roles, while Paula Patton does a lovely job (in every possible way) as Washington’s love interest with some secrets of her own.