"Elysium" is a science fiction metaphor for the haves and have-nots of today.

In the year 2154, the super-rich live on a huge bicycle wheel-shaped space station orbiting Earth. It is a Garden of Eden. The wealthy are coddled in Boca-Raton meets Disney World surroundings. Health-care "med-pods" heal patients completely and quickly.

Down below, the whole Earth has become the Third World. Los Angeles is reduced to shanty towns such as those, for example, surrounding Mexico City.

The film title refers to Elysian Fields, an ancient Greek concept of the afterlife. In the "Odyssey" by Homer, paradise is called Elysium. There are many references to Elysium in literature and theater.

In "Elysium," Matt Damon portrays Max, a factory worker who falls in with a group of revolutionaries, led by Spider (Wagner Moura) and assisted by Julio (Diego Luna). They're hell-bent on shuttling to Elysium and bringing economic equality to Earth. Max helps Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter, Matilda (Emma Tremblay), who is facing a terminal disease.

"Elysium," with elements of "Mad Max" (for its rebels) "Aliens" (for its effective claustrophobic camera work),"Star Wars" and "RoboCop" (for its Storm Trooper-like military and droids and drones), and director Neill Blomkamp's own 2009 sci-fi landmark, "District 9" (for its bleached-out visuals, taut action and bristling pace), is this year's thinking man's and woman's dystopian sci-fi flick \m even better than "Oblivion," "World War Z" and "Pacific Rim."

Damon, in major six-pack mode, with shaved head, an intense visage that rarely cracks a smile (the closest is when his lower-lip turns dourly under), is a hardboiled yet compassionate, coiled-spring action hero.

Braga is a wonderful presence opposite him as an independent mother protecting her child.

Jodie Foster plays a really despicable Elysium official, as do William Fichtner and especially Sharlto Copley (Kruger), the latter a South African actor seen in "District 9."

Blomkamp uses flashbacks to back-story Max and Frey. His screenplay and dialogue uses terms like Civic Cooperation Bureau, Sabre Cerebral Defence, Armadyne (an armaments and security contractor), Homeland Security and "Thank you for your service" with obvious contemporary references.

If you're going to see one sci-film in the waning days of summer, "Elysium" is the one, especially in the Imax format.

"Elysium," MPAA rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian) for strong bloody violence and language throughout; Genre; Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller; Run time: 1 hr., 49 min.; Distributed by TriStar Sony Pictures..

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Elysium" was filmed in Mexico and Canada.

Box Office, Aug. 16: "Lee Daniels' The Butler" opened at No. 1, $25 million; with "We're The Millers" staying at No. 2, $17.7 million, $69.5 million, two weeks; and pushing "Elysium" from No. 1 to No. 3, $13.6 million, $55.9 million, two weeks; and kicking "Kick-Ass 2" to a No. 4 opening, with $13.5 million.

5. "Planes," $13.1 million, $45 million, two weeks; 6. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," $8.3 million, $38.9 million, two weeks; 7. "Jobs," $6.7 million, opening; 8. "2 Guns," $5.5 million, $59.2 million, three weeks; 9. "The Smurfs 2," $4.6 million, $56.9 million, three weeks; 10. "The Wolverine," $4.4 million, $120.4 million, four weeks

Unreel, Aug 21:

"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," PG-13: Cassandra Clare's six-novel series is brought to the screen in a fantasy romance about a demon attack in New York City. Lilly Collins, Lena Headey, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jamie Campbell Bower and Robert Sheehan star.

Unreel, Aug 23:

"The World's End," R: A pub crawl reunion becomes humankind's only hope for survival. Rosamund Pike, Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman and Nick Frost star in the sci-fi comedy.

"You're Next," R: A family is attacked during their wedding anniversary. Sharnii Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, A.J. Bowen and Joe Swamberg star in the horror-thriller.

"The Grandmaster," PG-13: Director Kar Wai Wong tells the story of martial arts master Ip Man, who trained Bruce Lee, in the action-drama.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com; and the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@tnonline.com.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes