It's August and the hot-months movie season is winding down, but before you complain about seeing yet another big summer epic, Peter Travers recommends you see just one more: District 9 mastermind Neill Blomkamp's futuristic saga Elysium.
It's the year 2154 and Los Angeles, the home of a bald, tattooed Matt Damon, has been transformed into a garbage dump (much of the movie was, in fact, shot in an actual landfill in Mexico City). While bureaucratic robots are running everything on Earth – "I felt it was very much like the DMV," says Travers – the human one-percent has migrated to Elysium, a space station spinning around the planet. There, anyone who falls ill with anything from the common cold to cancer is immediately cured. When an accident leaves Damon with only five days to live, he becomes determined to ascend to Elysium. And with an exoskeleton welded to his body, he has the strength to fight the robots and do it.
While Elysium isn't quite on par with District 9's intelligent social commentary, it's still a "popcorn movie with a smart theme," says Travers, in part because Damon has gotten good at being an action star who can show what he's thinking without dialogue. If Travers hadn't expected a little more from the director of one of his favorite films, he would call Elysium one of the best of the summer. As it is, it's still entertaining – "sci-fi without the stupid."