Directed By: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, and William Fichtner

2013 has been a pretty good year for sci-fi lovers.  We've had plenty of fun with movies like Oblivion, Star Trek Into Darkness, and even Pacific Rim.  If District 9 director Neil Blomkamp has anything to say about it, we're not done quite yet.  Hitting theaters this weekend, his latest film Elysium is the last big science fiction film until the likes of Gravity and Ender's Game in the fall.  In fact, it's the last film of the summer with a nine-figure budget.  While it's certainly not as good as District 9, Elysium holds its own and serves as another strong addition to the genre this year.

It's 2154, and the earth is ruined.  While the poor masses remain on the overpopulated, spoiled planet and languish in suffering, the rich and elite migrate to a space habitat known as Elysium.  There, they get a secure home, a lavish lifestyle, and a disease-free life as the poor watch from Earth jealously.  They get all of this because they're citizens who have paid into this exclusive system.  Led by President Patel (Faran Tahir) and protected by Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Foster), the people of Elysium will do anything and everything in their power to protect their secluded way of life in the luxurious space station. 

Back on Earth, people like Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) look at the beautiful space habitat in envy regularly and aspire to get there someday.  For his part, Max is an ex-convict and part of a vicious, oppressive cycle.  He's highly unlikely to ever reach Elysium, especially when his parole is extended eight months because of an altercation with police droids.  When he goes to work at the Carlyle factory in what once was Los Angeles, Max finds himself constantly in the line of fire from his boss.  When the door to his production unit malfunctions, Max is given the ultimatum to endanger himself and fix it or look for another job.  By choosing to keep his job, Max accidentally gets exposed to deadly amounts of radiation.  He now has five days to live.  For his service for defense contractor John Carlyle (William Fichtner), an ailing Max is given a bottle of pills and sent off to die somewhere else on his own terms. 

Enraged and determined to live, Max has only one choice — to get to Elysium where he can get life-saving medical treatment.  Enlisting the help of his friend Julio (Diego Luna) and their longtime adversary Spider (Wagner Moura), Max hatches a plan to kidnap Carlyle and steal some information from his brain, namely bank accounts and financial information.  What Max doesn't realize is that Carlyle is conspiring to stage a coup on Elysium with Defense Secretary Delacourt and that the information in the CEO's brain is far more valuable than they could have ever imagined.  When Secretary Delacourt sees the plan in action, she deploys psychotic former Elysium asset Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to take care of the situation covertly.  Meanwhile, a dying Max runs into his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) for whom he still has feelings and learns of her sick daughter.

If nothing else, Elysium is a metaphor for the socioeconomic inequalities in today's world.  Neil Blomkamp has confirmed this in interviews.  Look at the world around you and see what he is depicting.  The poor and less fortunate struggle for basic dignities and fairness endlessly but never attain them.  The rich use all their might to fight them at every step and to protect the unfair system from which they have largely benefited.  This sounds all too familiar. In the United States alone, look at issues such as income inequality, healthcare expansion, and the broken immigration system.  Then, go watch something like Cribs or Keeping Up With the Kardashians.  If you don't see the social disparity Blomkamp is showing us in Elysium, you're not looking hard enough.

Blomkamp's second feature film Elysium may not be as good as his first, but it can certainly stand on its own two feet as a quality film.  With spectacular visuals of the lavish space station and the contrasting sight of the once sprawling city of Los Angeles, Blomkamp creates a strong visual juxtaposition that emphasizes his main theme, the disparities between the haves and have-nots.  With a strong story and meaty characters, Blomkamp gives us a compelling tale that highlights the perpetual struggle between the rich and the poor.  Finally, with great action and plenty of thrills to keep us on the edge of our seats, Blomkamp depicts the war the less fortunate must wage if they ever have any hope of finding fairness in the system.  All of this brings his potent metaphor fully to life in Elysium.

Blomkamp has a great cast to help bring this futuristic tale to life as well.  As our star Max DeCosta, Matt Damon takes a licking and keeps on ticking.  Every time I turn around, Damon's character is collapsing from radiation and organ failure or getting his ass handed to him in battle.  With a character that takes plenty of hard knocks, Damon gives the best performance he's given in quite some time.  I'm happy to see him doing something meaningful on the big screen again as opposed to films like We Bought a Zoo and Promised Land.  For her part as Secretary of Defense Delacourt, Jodie Foster gives us exactly what I expected — a cold, calculating antagonist driven by her ambition and desire for power.  She's a real menace in this one, but not the only menace.  Sharlto Copley's Agent Kruger is one crazy, deliciously evil villain as well.  Whether talking trash or singing lullabies, this guy is one personable enemy who kicks ass and takes names with a sadistic smile.

I have to say that I really enjoyed Elysium.  In a summer of unprecedented blockbuster flops, Neil Blomkamp shows that quality still rules.  His second feature is a high quality big budget film with a conscience and a strong social message that we all can appreciate.  This intense, futuristic sci-fi thriller gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.