Those paying attention may have noticed that Matt Damon has been moving into more socially conscious movies recently, notably the animal activism of “We Bought a Zoo”, the flawed hydraulic fracturing movie “Promised Land”, and now upcoming “Elysium.” It’s the latter that has the potential to break genre barriers by becoming a Charles Dickens novel with a sci-fi frame. With that comes the advent of A-list stars recently joining the sci-fi train where analogies that pertain to real life are becoming the new movies of substance.
That’s a big deal for Damon who seemed destined to head into the action genre paired with the occasional character piece. But it seems he deliberately chose a new direction once “Happy Feet Two” and “We Bought a Zoo” came along. It was an indication of films that make more of a difference, either in attracting family audiences or fostering certain issues that directly affect the planet.
With sci-fi about to have a new renaissance exploring issues that pertain more to theoretical or real science, will Damon stay in that arena if “Elysium” becomes a major success? While “Elysium” may be a continuation of his action persona, he has a different physicality, as in using an exoskeleton device (see the trailer) and interaction within dystopian surroundings. He’s also playing the emblem of the Dickensian character: One who overcomes to dig himself out of a poor social environment on Earth.
Ironically, Damon will be playing the opposite end of the spectrum in Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem” later this year or next. As another exploration of the Orwellian world, Damon plays someone with the static title of Management who pressures a poor mathematician (played by Christoph Waltz) to find the meaning of life. Damon must have seen the ironic flip-flop there as well as the value of where sci-fi is suddenly going.
He’s far from done with the character parts if you include his upcoming performance of Scott Thorson in the HBO Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra.” And he’ll be returning to action with “The Monuments Men” next December, which is George Clooney’s epic on stolen paintings during World War II. Whether Damon sticks to sci-fi after that will have to be guessed rather than knowing.
Actors who care about the message sent in their movies may be gravitating more to the sci-fi genre as movies such as “Interstellar” remake the entire genre. As well, it’s becoming more of a challenge to find any other genre that provides as much of a mirror to deeply felt issues in the world. Due credit goes to the original TV series of “Star Trek” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, if ironic that the new “Trek” movies aren’t necessarily doing the same.
Don’t be surprised, though, to eventually see Matt Damon in a space sci-fi epic. The closest he came was doing voice work in “Titan A.E.” 13 years ago. In “Elysium”, the space habitat where the wealthy live only circles in earth’s orbit.
Social issues, though, can easily exist out in the universe that we know. Damon can probably expect to see some script utilizing that idea in his mailbox over the next decade. Space, presumably, won’t be the place where we find out Jason Bourne ultimately ended up.