Friday, 4 September 2009
REVIEW: District 9
Science Fiction seems to be more credible when there's allegory involved. It shouldn't really, because nothing has less to do with why a film is good then subtext, but in this particular genre it undoubtedly does. Aliens is more then a movie about shooting sneaky green slimy things, because its secretly about Vietnam, with a clueless military hunting a near invisible foe. The Matrix isn't just a film about kicking things in slow motion. See, what it really is is a Jesus story, with a chosen one sent to save humanity from themselves, only to die for their sins. And be resurrected to ultimate badass level, much like Jesus was if you believe that kind of thing. There's also a whole bit with Cypher as Judas, selling out the chosen one for his 30 pieces of silver. But this is a digression.
District 9 is at its most obvious level an allegory for illegal immigrants, but also for the racism that was so rampant in South Africa, the nation where this film takes place, throughout the 20th century. Here the alien refugees who arrive in an abandoned alien ship, are duly segregated and forced to live of scraps and the whim of gangs who also take up in the area. Our main character, the awesomely named Wikus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) , is a pen-pushing employee for the MNU, a mercenary type corporate entity charged with evicting the aliens from their current slum to a place much further from the twitchy humans. Wikus is very much the company man performing his duty with little concern, and even laughingly refers to the sound of Alien eggs being torched as sounding like popcorn. He even harbors a little racism, calling the creatures 'Prawns' and doing so without thought. This is until he is exposed to an Alien liquid and begins a slow and torturous metamorphosis, he is turned on by his friends and colleagues and in turn flees to District 9 where he has his reservations challenged.
The film is very much in two parts.the first being a documentary style, day in the life of the MNU, with Wikus as our guide. And the second is a full on action movie with a message of tolerance and overcoming your prejudices there for good measure. Each is good in its own way, but I probably preferred the first half, because it was definitely the smarter and more original of the two, with its elaborate establishment of the overall hell that is district 9. The second felt a little more familiar - and a little like Halo in a way, particularly in the way director Neil Blomkamp delights in alien weaponry that explodes humans upon impact. If I were to guess, I'd say maybe 25 people died this way much to the delight of the audience I was watching with - its a more streamlined heroic journey, but still entertaining and contains some highly quality action scenes. What holds the film together is Sharlto Copley's central performance which is much better then it had any right to be, given Blomkamp's obvious disinterest in the quality of the film's other performances. Given how important the character becomes to the film, if that performance had been a little shakier the film may have imploded, but the dude holds it together.
What this is really is an action move with a brain. Its a summer movie that gives the audience enough credit to be able to blend issues and ideas with entertainment and for the most part it manages to uphold quite a high standard throughout. Its a little hackneyed in places, and sometimes the action is put before logical thought, but this is without a doubt the best action movie of the summer. But then again this summer contained GI Joe, Wolverine, Transformers 2, Angels and Demons and Terminator: Salvation.