At the heart of Neill Blomkamp's second feature film, Elysium, is a bold, political diagram. The film's conceit is that Earth has become greatly polluted and impoverished and the richest few have moved off world to Elysium where they live in great luxury.
In the footage shown to us in Hall H at Comic Con this afternoon, the dominion of Elysium was introduced as some kind of celestial version of Beverly Hills. A woman is shown sunbathing, picking up some of those deadly rays, then stepping into her personal medpod and being diagnosed as having a small number of cancerous cells in her system. One quick wave of a technological wand later and she's 100% free, given a clean bill of health.
The destroyed Earth is introduced with Matt Damon's character, a working man with a sarcastic temperament. Harrassed by droids – and they're called droids in the dialogue – he makes some quips and gets beaten for it.
We see that he's hurt in an accident in his work place and exposed to deadly levels of radiation. The clunkiest bit of the promo reel then unfolded – a droid approaches the character, shovels out the exposition that Damon has taken on enough radiation that he will die in five days. There's our ticking clock.
So Damon's character decides that he's going to go to Elysium and make himself well. Yep – I expect it's going to be framed as the big sci-fi Obamacare movie.
He has another run-in with a robotic servant of the ruling classes: the border control device as we saw replicated on the Comic-Con floor. There was a lot of humour in this scene. Damon's character continued to be sarcastic, and the AI just couldn't cope with it. Lovely little scene.
As part of the process that will get him to Elysium, Damon's character undergoes the fitting an exoskeleton and some kind of chip behind the ear. The fitting was shown in closeup, bonesawing, flesh peeling detail.
William Fichtner's character is not entirely clear – to me at least – but he's a man of privilege and Damon's character is going to exploit him, somehow, and his position, in order to infiltrate Elysium. It appears that he's somehow mimicking him. There was some exposition in the footage, but so much was going on and I don't want to get it wrong.
It's Fichtner's character who owns the Bugatti space ship we saw on the Con floor.
So, Damon heads to Elysium. Some of the scenes reveal that Jodie Foster's character, who speaks with something like a South African accent that I'm told was actually supposed to be a French one (but Foster speaks good French, I'm confused), is responsible for maintaining the status quo for the richie riches. She's clearly not a heroine. Sharlto Copley appeared as somebody at the other end of the spectrum – dressed in dirty rags and clearly a man without resources.
There was a little scene in which Copley and Damon have a fight. They're both rigged up with similar weapons, and the combat was quite hard and impactful. Other action beats even went into bloodiness – exploding bodies, splatter and blood.
A lot of little pieces went by quickly, but the ideas were clear. This is a political film in broad sci-fi strokes. It looks like Blomkamp has something that will resonate, and also work as an action thriller.
And not to put too fine a point on it, Damon and Copley were really great.
I'd also like to point out how the visual language of the thing wasn't the same as Blomkamp's District 9. Don't expect the same lunging zooms. Don't expect the same super-wobbly handicam. Look forward to more steady, measured camerawork, and some very bold, but still naturalistic shots. He's walked the line of bringing in "verite" components much more efficiently.
Or so this footage would suggest.
Elysium looked like a success on every level. I can't wait to see more.