In the year 2154, we’re told, the rich don’t care about the poor. Neill Blomkamp, whose debut film was the alien-apartheid fantasy District 9
, pretty much takes this for granted. His sophomore film, Elysium
, is essentially a political metaphor gone fiercely rogue in the physical world. Not only do the rich not give two flying figs about the poor, but they live in a utopian space station in the sky, constantly bathed in heavenly light. Would-be “illegal” visitors—usually Hispanic—are shot down before they reach it. Below, on Earth, the abandoned residents of Los Angeles languish in a dreamily intricate slum that has fallen into apocalyptic steampunk, a world of shit and piss and dirt. Somewhere in the middle of this dung heap is Matt Damon as a blond-haired, blue-eyed chulo who’s gone straight after years as a car thief. Cheekily, he’s named Max—a road warrior for a new generation of apocalypse. It betrays nothing to tell you Max eventually thumbs a trip to Elysium to upset this hilariously unfair social order. Blomkamp’s cinematic vision may be stunning, but Elysium
’s plot and characters are pure Hollywood camp. But goddamn if it isn’t good, solid, hardworking Hollywood camp—with absolutely brutal, inventive action sequences that include swords, hovercraft, force fields, exploding bullets and acrobatic killer robots. You’re unlikely to care deeply about the characters in this movie, and beyond a beautifully satirical scene in which Damon’s character gets a little bit sarcastic with a robotic parole officer, you’re probably not going to be in it for the laughs, either. But the film is what a sci-fi epic should be: a fantastical machine fueled by our own dreams and fears, made believable by its absolute devotion to these dreams.