Hugely left-wing parables don't come along every day. Elysium's health-care reform allegory is so strident that all the hacks in the Hoover Institute, working in tandem, couldn't produce an essay that deliberately misinterpreted this movie as an anti-government, free-enterprise lauding epic.
Elysium's problem isn't that a bird can't fly on only one left wing, though—despite some of the best future/third world landscapes this side of Children of Men, it's graceless and blocky. Director Neill Blomkamp seems completely dead to wit.
Max (as in Mad Max), is Matt Damon, a denizen of Los Angeles 2154, which looks like the worst of Mexico City. A felon on parole, he suffers first (robot) police brutality, then a severe (and unlikely) industrial accident, Max is sent by a criminal overlord on a suicide mission to Elysium, an orbiting satellite that hangs in the sky like a corporate logo. There, the hyper-rich live in a state that must mimic immortality. They are the jealous guardians of those automatic surgery tubes (as in Prometheus) that can cure everything up to and including cancer. By amazing coincidence Max runs into an old childhood sweetheart (Alice Braga) who has reasons of her own for wanting to get to this fabulous off-world colony.
Elysium has problems: rocket-loads of boat people, arriving to be dealt with by Homeland Security. The head of that department is the ornery Delacorte (Jodie Foster).
Class war brews, but Blomkamp (District 9) backs off from the ultimate battle. We get fight scenes and explosions, shot in the Hong Kong-in-decline style, either too fast or too slow. Blomkamp is relentless in cutting away from action to something preposterously calmer; he has a serious talent for killing the tension. Foster, dressing down the Elysium elite in what sounds like a Margaret Thatcher accent, seems ready for a mad-scientist speech. We wait in vain for the confrontation between her and Max.
Damon is a buff, bland action hero, but the poor people have such unimpeachable reasons for their squalor and the rich people are so coldly formal. You wish for the dirty fun Paul Verhoeven would have had in his RoboCop days, making the former riotous and the latter shamelessly decadent.
Rated R; 109 min.