The year is 2154. Earth has been decimated to the point that the rich have evacuated to a utopian space station in the sky. What’s left of the planet is overpopulated and grim, including an L.A. that makes the Hollywood Hills look like a garbage dump. It is here where Damon and other scavenger-types fight for their lives, dreaming of the day they’ll be able to escape the pit they call home and live on Elysium themselves, where everyone is forever wearing white and nobody ages because Botox has been replaced by tanning bed-style machines that can cure imperfections.
Jodie Foster also resides on Elysium, and she, too, is caught up in a plot to overthrow the president. Almost by accident, both stories get intertwined when Damon is exposed to radiation and must get to one of those magic cure-all machines, a chance he is given when a thug (Wagner Moura) blackmails him into attaching an exoskeletal suit to his nervous system and extract some data from William Fictner’s brain, which — are you still with me? — is also the data Foster is after that may alter the course of her work on Elysium.
Whew. That’s quite a load. And I haven’t even made mention of a stalwart goon played by Sharlto Copley, who is in relentless pursuit of Damon for pretty much the entire movie and refuses to go away. Copley, you may recognize, played the slimy government agent in “District 9,” which was also spearheaded by visionary director Neill Blomkamp, who gives “Elysium” the same grim, hopeless feel as that sci-fi favorite except the action is even more engaging this time out and he has one hell of an asset in Mr. Matt Damon.
Most action movies would turn Damon into an indestructible, do-no-wrong superhero, but Blomkamp makes his character resolutely human, someone who makes poor decisions that lead to awful consequences and someone who actually feels the sting of a knife penetrating his belly. For some reason, the rest of the actors speak in a clipped, robotic manner, a possible deliberate choice by Blomkamp but surely a distracting one.
Blomkamp — who is only 34 years old, by the way — is a mere two movies into his feature-film career and has already proven himself a master at his craft. Critics and audiences hailed his “District 9” (which was even nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, if memory serves correctly) as a breakthrough hit, but “Elysium” solidifies Blomkamp as a force to be reckoned with. Both movies are like a breath of fresh air, revitalizing a genre that has long since given way to identity-themed actioners with special effects that called attention to themselves rather than integrating them less ostentatiously (“Oblivion,” “Total Recall”).
The only error Blomkamp makes is when he tries to shoehorn in some emotional heft at the denouement, which feels a little too easy, but the rest of “Elysium” is solid. What Blomkemp and Damon have crafted is a spectacularly entertaining adventure that is nothing short of fantastic. I can’t wait to see what Blomkemp comes up with next.
★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
Rated R. 109 minutes, 2013.
Director: Neill Blomkamp. Starring: Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley.