At the end of writer/director Neill Blomkamp's first movie District 9, the aliens reveal that it will take little over three years for them to get to their home planet and return to Earth. Now, here we are a little over three years since that movie hit cinemas, and Blomkamp has returned, but not with District 10.
The year is 2154, and Earth is one garbage bag away from WALL-E's vision of the planet. Over-pollution and over-population have caused all the rich and powerful to take to Elysium; a giant ring-shaped space station that looks down upon the poor and the sick from as high a pedestal as possible. Max (Matt Damon) is a former criminal now trying to get back on the straight and narrow, but an accident at his job gives him a fatal dose of radiation, and unless he can get up to use one of Elysium's cure-all medical devices, he'll be dead in five days. Meanwhile up on Elysium, Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is the head of security with a heavy hand against anyone trying to break into their orbiting paradise. She's using this constant threat to organise a potential coup of the space station.
So as you can imagine, it's political, social and economic subtext a go-go again, with District 9's apartheid metaphor replaced here with a just as brutal but equally unsubtle simile for the 99%'ers. There's a powerless black president, most of everyone on Elysium is white, while most of the people on Earth are Hispanic… it's real heavy-handed stuff. This sledgehammer approach to subtext isn't the movie's only fault; there's over-sentimental flashbacks, there's an awful conversation about hippos (you'll know it when you hear it), but the one big stand-out problem is Foster. Whether it was a poorly written character, or the fact that her performance just wasn't up to scratch (not ot mention the shockingly bad accent re-dubbing), every time she's on screen the movie suffers for it.
Thankfully that doesn't happen too often, and Blomkamp has upped the action quota from District 9 to present some truly fantastic combat scenes, brimming with imagination and violence. His vision of the future is fantastically realised, and you'll spend most of the time gawping at the majestic and epic beauty of the movie, which is something he's managed to accomplish with barely half the budget of most other summer blockbusters. Damon is good but not great in the central role (it would've been nice to see someone edgier play Max), but the real ace in the hole is Sharlto Copley. Having played hero for Blomkamp last time round, here he channels his dark-side as bounty hunter Kruger, and may well end up as the year's best cinematic villain.
A smart, sharp, adult sci-fi action movie that is thoroughly entertaining, and we don't get too many of those!