RATING: 3 stars (out of 4)
Even in the year 2154, the ageless Matt Damon will still look like Good Will ready to go hunting. But he will be bald and wear robotic shoulder pads that give him cyborg superpowers such as hadoukens and roll-tosses. He’ll still solve complex mathematical equations on the fly, ask you whether or not you like them apples and, when he absolutely has to, go see about girls.
Things will have changed, though. Flying cars will cruise the skyline, robocops will hassle poor people and all the rich people will have given up on the planet and gone off to a SoHo in the sky, a space station named Elysium.
It all looks so darned real, you’d swear it was filmed on location of a 15-year-old’s hyperactive, sci-fi-addled brain. Credit goes to South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp — who shows his feel for a gritty and ugly, yet still mind-blowing future — for not stopping with what he showed in the dazzling District 9 in 2009. In Elysium, buildings have decayed into grotesque skeletons, homeless people scurry around polluted, overpopulated slums and the few lucky enough to have jobs amid the squalor have to smack aside child beggars on their way to the office.
Damon plays Max, a factory worker who in long-ago flashbacks promised his childhood crush he would take her to Elysium. Even as a kid, the guy always had the best lines.
Fast-forward to 2155, and Damon is a bald, tattooed ex-con who toils in a robocop factory and whose job description consists of getting fried by radioactive waste. His unfeeling corporate overlords tell him he has just a few days to live, and instead of a severance check and gold watch, all they’re willing to give him are pills that will allow him to run around and kill things right up until all his organs explode.
It’s a raw deal, but Max is cool with it. Because now that he has nothing to lose, he figures he may as well try to find a way to space-shuttle himself to Elysium where he can snag some high-class, Canadian-style single-payer universal healthcare and heal himself as well as the daughter of his former and current crush (Alexa Vega). In order to find a way up there, Max makes a deal with a black market gang leader that scores him the robo-shoulder pads and fake ID he needs to sneak his way up to the promised land.
Max’s mission is to kill and/or suck information out of the brains of lots and lots of robocops, a Mad Max clone, an evil corporate exec and whatever other random buildings and cars he feels like blowing up. Damon is in dart-eyed Jason Bourne mode, making it seem like so much fun to destroy and explode everything because he’s so serious as he does it.
While there’s potential in the setup for some thought-provoking commentary about society, the class divide and humanity’s reckless willingness to cede control to artificial intelligence, Blomkamp pretty much tosses that all the side in order to let Damon rock it in destroyatron mode. It’s all fun and exciting, and I’d rather the filmmaker just go with what’s working rather than try to get all preachy and important, so it works.
All the while, some evil politician played by Jodie Foster — you know she’s really evil because her hair is short and she sometimes speaks French — schemes and plots Max’s demise. As I watched her scenes, I wished for just one thing from the movie — that its final battle wouldn’t put her against Max in the most unfair fistfight ever staged. Without spoiling whether or not the movie ends that way, I can say unequivocally Damon is serious about about his girl, even if she misunderstands his devotion and goes off to Stanford on bad terms. Them apples are just fine, as is Elysium.
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharito Copley, Alice Braga and Diego Luna. Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. 109 minutes. Rated R.