“Elysium” gives sci-fi twist to immigration, health care

Director Neill Blomkamp has been associated with South Africa, especially because his earlier sci-fi film, “District Nine,” showed racist apartheid so magnificently. (Another take on that film is here.) In Blomkamp’s new movie, “Elysium,” he films partly in Canada and partly in Mexico. The choice of filming locations couldn’t have been more appropriate, since the film is about downtrodden people with no health care and lousy worker safety protections who are desperate to go somewhere more affluent where they have good health care and workplace safety. It’s not the road from Mexico to Canada that our hero Max traverses, but from Earth to an affluent satellite retreat named “Elysium.”

Elysium is where the wealthy have gone to hide from their grungy workers, but it’s not a completely harmonious political landscape. There are affluent “liberals” and affluent “conservatives” who are sharply divided over, you guessed it, how to handle the immigrant problem. Sci-fi is such a perfect microscope for examining contemporary problems!

In his determined assault on Elysium, actor Matt Damon gets whomped and gets up again over and over again. He’s a fighter extraordinaire, just as he is when he plays the spy in the “Bourne” series. This time he has cyborg abilities with an exoskeleton of super strength and endurance. His opponents, also, are whomped and revived over and over again to the point that it gets repetitious. The shootouts, wrestling matches, and stabbings, unfortunately, overtake the serious sense of the film and become a major distraction.

Give the movie credit for making its hero a working man instead of the usual attorney, artist, or architect. Credit to Matt Damon for playing so many different roles so well. Give some credit to Jodie Foster for her icy portrayal as a cold-blooded jingoist murderer, and some credit to actor William Fichtner for his underplayed CEO corporate bossman, which establishes him as a character actor of wide range, since he was the over-emoting cutlipped marauder in the recent “Lone Ranger.”

“Elysium” is not top-notch sci-fi because it blunts its own sharp message. But technically, it’s an outstanding and well-made space shoot-em-up.

Directed by Neil Blomkamp

Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster

109 min.

Photo: Elysium official site