"Elysium" is a new epic sci-fi drama starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Entertainment Weekly's contributing critic Owen Gleiberman filed the following review.
In "Elysium," Neill Blomkamp's shrewdly revved and exciting dystopian thriller, Matt Damon sports a shaved head, which gives him a spooky ghost-face-killer vibe, and his character, Max, spends most of the movie with a spidery black-metal exoskeleton implanted in his skull and spine.
The surgically attached machinery is there to make Max strong -- a boost he critically needs, since he's been exposed to a dose of radiation that will leave him dead in just five days. It also allows him to download the contents of someone else's brain.
But the most important purpose served by that added hardware may be visual and symbolic: it transforms Max into a hulkingly damaged man-machine, a variation on the title character of RoboCop. It also has the unmistakable look of a cross he's been nailed to. Max isn't just fighting to save himself or his fellow earthlings. He's a guy who's been souped up into a post-apocalyptic action-movie Christ.
Elysium confirms the talent for razory mayhem and shocking satire that Blomkamp showcased in his remarkable first feature, "District 9." In "Elysium," Blomkamp comes up with sci-fi conceits that sear themselves into your imagination. Much if the movie takes place in a crumbling, shantytown 22nd century Los Angeles that suggests the concrete ghettos of Rio meets "Blade Runner," with the sun out.
Suspended above this hellhole society is a man-made satellite called Elysium, whose vast metal rim contains a sprawling prefab suburban paradise -- acres and acres of pristine lawns and McMansions. The people who live there have everything they want, yet Blomkamp's sly joke is that even the world everyone on Earth covets is a paper-thin and almost virtual place.
"Elysium" has been shot in an incredibly effective mode of raggedy, quick-cut anxiety, yet the movie's plot, I have to say, is fairly basic. Max has to get to Elysium to repair his irradiated body, and he must face down the fascist politician who's plotting to take over; she's played by Jodie Foster with angry clipped diction and not a lot more.
But once Max gets up to Elysium, the film turns into a virtuoso gun battle that might be taking place almost anywhere. What makes it matter is Damon, who has kicked ass before, but never with this kind of underlying brotherhood-of-man melancholy.