**1/2 (out of four)
At the end of a memorable “Simpsons” episode about ordinary people being overseen by a powerful organization, Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire asks, “Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?” The crowd, of course, chooses dingers.
That’s sort of the approach that writer-director Neill Blomkamp takes with “Elysium.” The sci-fi/action flick’s topicality exists primarily as an illusion, as if viewers only want a superficial connection to social issues and are then happy to move on to eye-popping stuff like Max (Matt Damon) yanking the head off a merciless robot cop of the future. Which, admittedly, looks awesome.
The film takes place in 2154, about half a century since Earth’s wealthiest people escaped pollution and disease to live in a floating utopia called Elysium. I can only assume that’s not based on the ultra-liberal commune of the same name in “Wanderlust,” since rampant drug use and nudity don’t appear to be chosen pastimes for the 1 percenters of the 22nd century. Down on Earth, Max has spent his life longing to go up to the beautiful world in which virtually all illness can be cured, and absorbing a lethal amount of radiation during his thankless factory job provides all the urgency he needs. This guy is going to get to Elysium even if it kills him because if not, he’s dead anyway.
Blomkamp (“District 9”) again seeks to establish a relevant story about the segregation of rich and poor (with particular recognition of strict immigration laws) and, in this case, the callousness of providing health care only for those who can afford it. However, “Elysium” never gets beyond established perceptions or into the details of what it actually takes to expand those resources. The chance of a viewer learning or having the conversation advanced by the film is as meager as the hair on Max’s head or the fat on his ripped torso. Never say Damon doesn’t get into character.
This beautiful-looking movie will keep most viewers engaged and, as the film touches on both protective forcefields and police brutality, either moderately excited or extensively upset. Yet from Elysium’s cold, ambitious guardian (Jodie Foster) to a rogue agent on Earth (Sharlto Copley) to Max’s childhood love (Alice Braga) and adult best bud (Diego Luna), “Elysium” overloads with plot and under-delivers on texture. And, by the way, the concept of an unlivable planet of the future isn’t just familiar—”Elysium” marks the third film this year (“Oblivion,” “After Earth”) to go there, not even including the abysmal “Upside Down.” Minds aren’t blown by repetition, people.
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