Summer's newest science-fiction blockbuster, "Elysium" portrays human society as divided between the haves and have-nots.
In the film, directed and written by Neill Blomkamp (of "District 9" fame), the year is 2154, and the world's wealthiest individuals have abandoned their diseased and overpopulated planet in favor of living in a high-tech space station, Elysium. Meanwhile, the remaining 99 percent of the human population lives in impoverished conditions on Earth.
Matt Damon ("The Bourne Identity" trilogy, "We Bought a Zoo") gives a well-acted performance as Max DeCosta, a factory worker and ex-con who suffers radiation exposure at work and is given five days to live.
In a decaying state, Max agrees to revert to his criminal ways to earn a ticket to Elysium, where instant cures are available. Blomkamp gives special attention to Max's psychological and physical transformation as he tackles the job with a mechanically aided body.
Unfortunately, Jodie Foster delivers a laughable French accent and oddly stoic performance as Secretary of Defense Delacourt, a headstrong government official who will do anything to maintain the utopic lifestyle of Elysium's citizens, even if that means she must murder Earth civilians. The main issue with Delacourt is her lack of character development, making her appear simply as a perpetually high-strung woman unwilling to take orders.
The supporting cast is rounded out by Alice Braga ("I Am Legend") as Frey, Damon's love interest who is trying to heal her daughter's degenerative disease, and Sharlto Copley ("District 9"), who gives a charismatic performance as secret government agent Kruger, the man charged with retrieving the information Max stole from an Elysium businessman. Wagner Moura plays the crime boss Spider, with Diego Luna as Julio, Max's best friend.
The film is rated R with strong language throughout, and it has a fair share of violence and gore.
"Elysium" boasts spectacular visual effects, which give viewers a crisp and clear view of the third-world slum that Earth has become. In addition, Blomkamp's intelligent screenplay offers bits of good-hearted humor even in the grimmest of situations. These subtle inclusions help manage the heavy social message the movie projects.
While its premise is original and intriguing, "Elysium" suffers from being immensely one-dimensional. While audiences are let into the lives of Max and Frey through a series of flashbacks, most of the other inhabitants of Earth are shown as poor, Spanish speaking, gun-wielding citizens.
Secretary of State Delacourt and Elysium President Patel (Faran Tahir) are the only named people on Elysium, while their fellow citizens are simply idealized, French-speaking replications of one another.
In addition, the last 30 minutes of "Elysium" descend into an extended good guy vs. bad guy fight scene typical of an action blockbuster. There are simply too many "look what this high-tech gun can do" slow-motion takes and one too many "watch this guy explode" scenes.
While "Elysium" is perhaps the best science-fiction film of the summer, it is nowhere near the emotional bar established by "District 9" in 2009.
With more exploration of the film's characters and better focus on the seriousness of its setting, "Elysium" could have delivered a potent social message with immense depth.