Sophomore slump, but at least it’s ambitious. Too much so, in fact…the reaching ultimately derails it. And what has happened to the beautiful and mega-talented Jodie Foster? She was once amongst my favorite actresses, but her performances of late have ranged from middling to terrible. This one’s in the latter category, unfortunately. Meant to convey icy and rigid, she winds up coming off simply stiff. It’s probably been over a decade since I’ve enjoyed her work. Damon’s relatively reliable though, and even he manages to survive intermittent garbage like “Promised Land”(he also wrote that one). And Neil Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley is fun here as the dastardly villain. But it was on the shoulders of writer/director Blomkamp to make this fly, and he provides us with a mixed bag. On the one hand, he provides a nifty-looking motion picture, with incredible production design. But as a follow-up to 2009’s incredible feature debut of “District 9″(an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and my 2nd favorite movie of that year), “Elysium” is a bit of a comedown. But it ain’t all bad, either.
It’s 2154, and the elite of the Earth reside on a country club-style space habitat dubbed Elysium, while the destitute, unwashed masses toil in the polluted, overpopulated, dystopian, hardscrabble society below. Immigrant-loaded spacecrafts consistently attempt to illegally land on Elysium-–and are routinely shot down or forcefully diverted. Meet Max Da Costa(the buff Matt Damon): a criminal parolee trying to stay on the straight-and-narrow in this rebellious and crime-ridden world of robot policemen and mind-numbing labor jobs. But when an industrial accident gives Max a lethal dose a radiation, he struggles to escape to Elysium, where disease eradicating medical chambers are available in every household. Soon a political coup-minded Defense Secretary named Delacourt(Ms. Foster), and an activated sleeper agent named Kruger(Mr. Copley)are making it near impossible for Max to reach his destination. Joining forces with a smuggler called Spider(Wagner Maura), who fits him with a robotic exoskeleton to vastly increase his strength and agility, Max and his friend Julio(Diego Luna)attempt to save not only themselves, but the Earth’s entire populace—especially the leukemia ravaged daughter of his childhood sweetheart(Alice Braga).
This is my 2nd consecutive exoskeleton movie this past week(expect my review of the rebooted “RoboCop” franchise in the coming days), and as an unabashed lover of all things involving heroic humans with robot parts, my hopes were high with “Elysium”. But where “District 9″‘s socio-political aspects felt smart and inspired(Blomkamp is South African, and “District 9” is an alien invasion movie that deftly took on apartheid), “Elysium”‘s similar aspirations feel forced and stifling. It’s much too heavy when it needs a lighter touch. Not content with one allegorical issue, “Elysium” saddles itself with none-too-subtle diatribes against immigration, the health care system, class warfare and overpopulation. Hey, I’m a liberal, but there’s only so much hammering over the head I can take! Does this stuff play better without “District 9” as its predecessor? I’m open to that possibility, but I think “Elysium” still eventually bogs down. And the sick child device is too freaking easy and cloyingly sentimental. But Damon powers most of it through, and the movie is simply fun to look at. So I’m disappointed, but I’m not giving up on Neil Blomkamp just yet. Grade: C+