Movie review: Will Matt Damon meet his destiny or demise in sci-fi action 'Elysium'?

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It's good news-bad news for ailing human beings in the year 2154.

A miraculous medical device employs "re-atomizing" to cure a fatal disease or reconstruct a face blasted to bits by an explosion -- in mere seconds. But this tool exists only on Elysium, a man-made space station that hangs above the planet like another moon. It might as well be in another galaxy for some.


3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley.

  • Rating:

    R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.

"Elysium" (also the name of the movie) is where the very wealthy have fled and re-created a California-like conclave far from the madding crowd on polluted, overpopulated and crime-ridden Earth. That is where Max (Matt Damon), an ex-convict, has been stuck since childhood and where he works in a gritty factory manufacturing droids.

When Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation in a callous workplace that values products over people, he is dragged out of harm's way by a robot and handed a bottle of pills. He is told he will die in five days and given a mechanical, "Thank you for your service."

If Max could get to the paradise in the sky, he could live. But Elysium's Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is happy to shoot down unauthorized shuttles or detain airborne occupants trying to breach the border.

She is plotting a power grab even as Max is hatching a scheme with onetime criminal compatriot Spider, a "coyote" who helps people illegally sneak into Elysium. Max's personal mission morphs into a larger one that may prove to be his destiny or his demise.

"Elysium" is from writer-director Neill Blomkamp, whose "District 9" -- a small 2009 film, shot in South Africa with no well-known actors -- garnered four Academy Award nominations including best picture.

The tale about extraterrestrials forced by humans to live in squalor in a ghetto in South Africa wasn't your average sci-fi thriller. It could be seen as caustic commentary on apartheid or anti-immigration fever or other ethnic battles.

"Elysium" is a sci-fi action movie with messages about the haves and have-nots, access to health care and the incendiary topic of "illegals," as the poor Earth-bound are called. A doctor tells the mother of a gravely ill child to take her home. "This isn't Elysium. We can't just heal her."

Los Angeles is part of what we would consider a Third World country, even though robots have taken the place of some humans. The sharpest dialogue, in fact, comes between a subservient or sarcastic Max and robotic police or parole officers.

Battles between Max and Kruger (Sharlto Copley from "District 9"), a professional soldier working on Earth for Elysium, seem like standard summer action fare. Been there, watched that in movies from "Iron Man 3" to "Pacific Rim" and beyond.

Mr. Damon, with shaved head and fake tats across a muscular torso, and Ms. Foster, in short blond hair, Armani suits and French accent, are joined by Alice Braga as a fellow orphan and childhood friend to Max; Diego Luna as a pal from Max's lawbreaking days; Brazilian star Wagner Moura as Spider; and William Fichtner as the cold-hearted creator of the computer program that operates the world of Elysium.

Although not bound for Oscar glory this time, Mr. Blomkamp creates two dramatically different and visually arresting worlds and proves he has not fallen victim to a sophomore or a sci-fi slump.

And if he leaves moviegoers with something to chew on, other than sugary snacks, all the better.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published August 9, 2013 4:00 AM


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