What a horrid mess this is.
It's 2154, and Earth is so badly polluted and unpleasant that the rich folks have fled to Elysium, a space station orbiting the planet. On Elysium, there are manicured lawns and swimming pools; most important, there are medical pods, high-tech gizmos capable of diagnosing and curing any illness or injury in about a minute.
Down on Earth, meanwhile, the poor live in slums and scrape out a living doing hard labor in factories. One such worker, Max (Matt Damon), gets zapped by a heavy dose of radiation that will kill him in days if he can't find a way to get to Elysium and into a med pod.
The planet is guarded by Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster), whose hard line stance on illegal immigrants -- she believes in shooting their shuttles out of the sky -- puts her in conflict with the more moderate President Patel (Faran Tahir).
So Max needs to get to Elysium, Delacourt wants to depose Patel (with the help of William Fichtner's Carlyle, a man so evil he literally orders people not to breathe in his direction), and the two are inevitably headed for conflict.
Alyssa Rosenberg has already done a fine job of tearing apart the confusion of the movie's health care dichotomy, but even if you toss that issue aside, Elysium just isn't very interesting. None of the characters have enough depth to be convincing, even by summer blockbuster standards, and Foster has chosen a bizarre accent that seems to be an indecipherable mix of French, South African, and Upper-Class Snob. The action sequences aren't exciting; Damon and the obligatory love interest (Alice Braga) have no chemistry; and the use of a sick child to generate pathos is the cheapest sort of emotional manipulation.