According to a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the gap between rich and poor in industrialised nations is accelerating.
Fast-forward a century to the setting of Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, and it seems highly plausible the wealth divide will be so vast that only the privileged few will entertain the possibility of colonizing new worlds while the rest of us scrabble for scraps of comfort in the dirt of a dying planet.
South African writer-director Blomkamp painted a bleak vision of the future in his superb debut, District 9, set in the slums of Johannesburg. His follow-up is even more grim, imagining two distinct classes, whose chances of survival are directly linked to their bank balance.
The year is 2154.
While most of the population lives in squalor on the surface of Earth, the wealthy inhabit a state-of-the-art space station called Elysium governed by President Patel (Faran Tahir) and his no-nonsense Secretary Of Defense, Delacourt (Jodie Foster).
She is charged with ensuring that refugee ships from Earth do not land on Elysium to take advantage of medical bays installed in every home.
Back in the slums on terra firma, factory worker Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) grafts long hours for meagre pay. He is involved in an industrial accident resulting in exposure to dangerous levels of radiation. Max knows his only hope is to breach Elysium’s defences so he can access a medical bay and banish the cancer that is ravaging his system.
Local criminal Spider (Wagner Moura) agrees to help if Max will help to steal secrets from the mind of John Carlyle (William Fichtner), CEO of the corporation responsible for constructing Elysium.
A deal is struck and Max is fitted with an exoskeleton, hardwired into his brain, to bolster his strength and allow a data download from Carlyle’s mind.
However, the path to Elysium is littered with obstacles, not least Delacourt’s favourite contract killer, a sadistic mercenary called Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
Although it lacks the depth of District 9, Elysium is an entertaining yarn which unfolds at a brisk pace, punctuated with flashbacks to Max’s childhood to establish a romantic bond with a nurse called Frey (Alice Braga).
In the absence of a decent back-story for his protagonist, Damon doesn’t have any emotional meat to sink his teeth into and simply imposes his physical presence on the film. Foster slinks with lip-smacking glee while Copley, star of District 9, is wasted in an undernourished supporting role.
Action sequences are slickly orchestrated and Blomkamp brings together all of the surviving characters for a rousing slam-bang finale, that proves one brave man can make a difference.