"Elysium" is straight-up sci-fi with an emotional core from the director of "District 9."
Maybe you saw that film few years ago. Matt Damon did. It was one of his favorite movies, and he moved its director, Neill Blomkamp, to the top of his wish list.
"And then sure enough, his very next project came my way," Damon said. "I had a chance to sit down and talk to him about it. And I knew I was going to do it, whatever it was, because I was such a fan of his work."
The young visionary reminded Damon of a big shot in the business.
"I remember talking to James Cameron before he did 'Avatar,' and the way he talked about the world was... it was like talking to somebody, you know, who had been there," Damon said. "And that's what it was like talking to Neil about 'Elysium.' ... I think he's one of those really rare people who can create an entire world that you completely buy."
Elysium is the name of an orbiting paradise, sharply dividing the "haves" and "have-nots" — utopia vs. dystopia about a century-and-a-half from now.
"By the time the movie takes place, this space habitat holds all of the wealth, and all of the rich people have moved there," Blomkamp explained. "They've left a destitute, damaged Earth behind."
Damon plays one of those unfortunates back on Earth. His character, Max, is an ex-con lucky enough to have job until a workplace accident nearly kills him.
His only possible salvation? Transform into a exo-skelton warrior and battle his way to Elysium, where there's a cure waiting for him and the dying daughter of a childhood friend.
But he'll have to make it past mercenary Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley, the star of "District 9."
"Kruger gets to have the fancier, upgraded hulk suits, and poor Max has got an old-fashioned one," Copley said. "But miraculously somehow he's still able to hold his own against me. It must be movie magic stepping in... or maybe just the Matt Damon charisma."
And there's a lot to be said for that charisma.
Damon bulked up, tatted up and shaved his head for the role. But he can never disguise the appeal that has us rooting for him... and this movie... despite the doom and gloom.